One of the biggest buzz movies out of Sundance this year was called Push. Then that crappy movie called Push came out and they changed it to Precious. Either way, I know two things going into it this morning (with not enough hours between the film and a sold-out Ra Ra Riot show): it is supposed to be an emotional cluster bomb, and Lee Daniels directed one of the worst movies I have ever seen in any festival, or life, Shadowboxer. (It’s the one where Cuba Gooding Jr. shoots Helen Mirren in the head while they’re doing it, and you see Stephen Dorff’s dong before he anally rapes a dude with a broken pool cue. A man yelled at the movie to go fuck itself when I saw it here in 2007.)
But I’ll give Daniels his much-deserved due on this one—Precious lives up to its hype. Starring Gabourey Sidibe in her acting debut, Clarice “Precious” Jones is a Harlem teen pregnant with her father’s second child. Her mother (Mo’Nique, and because of this movie we now live in a world where we will soon hear the phrase “Academy Award nominee Mo’Nique”) is an emotionally and physically abusive chain-smoking terror who sits around collecting welfare on Precious and her child, who doesn’t even live with them. A vice-principal at Precious’s school sees that she wants to learn despite an environment that discourages it, and points her to an alternative school run by Blu Rain (Paula Patton), who makes her students write every day, forcing Precious out of her shell and realize her self-worth.
Because it’s based on the memoir by Sapphire—the film’s full title is Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire—and the movie’s circumstances (and final horrifying confrontation) come from fact, it’s not surprising that at the end tears were flowing, and applause was thunderous. Daniels’ biggest achievement—besides getting Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry on board—is note-perfect casting: Mo’Nique’s operatic portrayal is balanced by restrained, small-but-effective performances from Sherri Shepherd(!), Lenny Kravitz(!!) and Mariah Carey(100x!); Patton beautifully embodies Blu as Precious’ aesthetic ideal and mother figure, and Sidibe’s blank face hides a gentle but tenacious soul. Precious is a hard but worthy journey.
My colleague Shayla Howell and I hit the Green Mango then the Cumberland for My Year Without Sex, which makes me realize I really like Australian films. The Black Balloon, Introducing the Dwights and now this all have a similar just-us-blokes vibe that’s about the working class trying to get by in the face of extraordinary circumstances. (Jindabyne is a bit too dark for this list.)
Written and directed by Sarah Watt, My Year Without Sex stars Sacha Horler as Natalie, a nurse and mother of two felled by a brain aneurysm. She survives, but is warned of triggers to another one, which include sex. The movie is broken into months with jaunty stock footage in between—Shayla suggests they drag the film down and together we theorize that somebody decided it didn’t have a hook and made Watts change the title and put in the gimmicky title bits, because it has very little to do with sex. It’s about the strain Natalie’s illness and recovery put on not just her sex life but her entire marriage and family, a year-long slice of life. It’s very well-done, with Horler and Matt Day as her husband Ross contributing lived-in, tough performances.
And continuing Thursday’s trend of scene-stealing animals, there’s also an excellent dog.
At a public screening for the uproarious Jennifer’s Body, a funny thing happens. When the programmer introducing the movie mentions piracy, and again when the anti-piracy title card comes up, the audience yells "ARRRR," like pirates! I am going to spread the word of this awesome trend in the pressers.