Three different men told me I had to see this, after I had decided to give it a miss. I respect their opinions, so I swallowed my distaste about what seemed to be to be an attempt to make an American kitchen sink drama. I watch “Coronation Street” often enough to get the idea. And hygienic movie poverty appeals to me – frankly – not at all.
It’s a good thing I saw this weird but really distinctive movie about race, literacy, poverty and the triumph of hope over experience – within limits. I doubt I will see anything better than Gabourey Sidibe’s performance as an obese teenager, pregnant for the second time at 16. Mo’Nique (it’s her spelling so don’t wince at me) is a comedian I enjoy, but her work here as the mother is moving and terrifying.
Paula Patton is just great as a teacher who cares and there’s a very convincing Mariah Carey as a credible social worker and an equally believable Lenny Kravitz as a nurse’s aide. Daniels got his start on Prince videos and movies and channels the energy and talent of his pop stars with great effect. You almost forget who they are.
People were crying and applauding in the Stratford Picture House. In the usual rowdy Monday night crowd, you could have heard a pin drop. Popcorn was eaten quietly and people sat still. These are miracles on par with loaves and fishes being multipled.
They have sorted out the heating in the venue – so mittens off – but both Screen 3 and Screen 1 have had deterioration of the actual screen, which means you must choose your seat carefully not to be distracted by odd reflections. The woman in front of me fretted to her date about getting an eye test so I reassured her I’d just had one and the effect she described is from the screen.
Afterwards, crowds of people were completely quiet, then broke into excited discussion. Director Lee Daniels (“Monster’s Ball”, “The Woodsman”and “Tennessee”) brings an artist’s view to the visuals and the shocks are truly shocking. The scene in which Precious looks in her mirror and sees – no, I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s devastating.
It’s a movie that says something different and it is brought out by the director’s rare and original voice. I’ve always thought Daniels had something special, but was uncomfortable rather than thrilled by his earlier films. With “Precious”, the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts and the writing and pace crack along. This film is about the endless capacity of people to find grace under pressure.
The woman next to me at the bus stop said “I wish I’d had a teacher like that”. The man with her said “I wish I’d had a teacher who looked like that”. As they started to argue, with no trace of a bus, I decided I would walk home, replaying scenes in my head.