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I don’t know what it means, exactly, but I wrote three-quarters of this post a month ago.  Unable to finish it off, I left it hanging as a draft.  About a week ago, I decided, perhaps partially influenced by the flagging buzz for the film, that I didn’t really agree with what I’d written and I should take a new angle.  Except that when I looked back over what I had written, it matched up pretty closely with my “new” revelation.

Whatever It is, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire has It.  And sadly, no, I’m not talking about Tim Curry dressed as a clown.  Sure, I guess you could argue I was biased by all the Oscar hype, but I’m not sure that has significantly affected my opinion of an Oscar contender before.  I didn’t even love Precious.  It is a very good movie, to be sure, but I didn’t think it was amazing.  Still, the film boasts a rather lustrous Oscar sheen.

Part of it is the subject matter.  Precious has some tough scenes and gets into some rather grim places.  But while the film rarely gets schmaltzy, there’s an overarching feeling of hope.  Maybe it is that feeling that lends the film its Oscar gravitas.  That seeming small space between the extremes of a dark, angry film and one with a storybook ending.

The other major part is the characters/actors, obviously.  We’ll soon find out if leader fatigue will hurt Gabourey Sidibe and Mo’Nique.  But to me, they rank right up there with the best larger-than-life performances of late because they form such distinct, unique, memorable characters.  Sidibe’s Precious is a hulking mess of person who never had a shot.  And yet, she feels different from all prior put-upon dreamer-protagonists.  That’s partially due to her not having some sort of amazing secret talent which would make her famous/popular/loved if she were just allowed to shine.  And I think that goes a long way toward reducing any hamminess that could show up in the film.  (Bizarre fantasy pops aside.)

The consistent disgust the film throws at Mo’Nique’s character is nearly unparalleled, to my limited memory.  I’m fairly certain she could make the Terminator cry.  There’s little doubt in my mind that ten years from now, when this blog is all I have to remember this decade’s movies, I won’t have forgotten Mo’Nique’s role any more than that of Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurrh.  She’s an ugly, ugly character and an extremely cutting villain.

The rest of the film, frankly, seems largely like background noise meant to make the scenes between Sidibe and Mo’Nique pop that much more.  Maybe that’s not entirely fair.  The first glimpses of Precious’s schooling are pretty compelling.  But then I started getting flashbacks to the treacly Freedom Writers.  Perhaps, in a perfect world, the lack of substance beyond the two characters would have a significant impact on the Academy.  And who knows, maybe it does.

But I think a pretty convincing case could be made that Oscar tends to fall for character-driven films.  Which isn’t necessarily bad, of course.  I’m certainly not advocating the Academy should try to honor movies with weaker characters.  Just that a solid character does not always a movie make.  Precious, though, comes darn close because of just how vividly it paints the two major characters.

January 2010