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November 20th, 2009 By Jason Gargano | Movies |

Friday Movie Roundup: Parsing Precious

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Lee Daniels’ Precious, which won audience awards at both the Sundance and Toronto film festivals, has drawn largely positive reviews for its unblinking look at a 16-year-old black female dealing with myriad challenges, including but certainly not limited to a serious weight problem, a monstrous mother, an incestuous father and an ineffective school system.

Yet Precious also has its detractors, none more vociferous than The New York Press’ Armond White, a critic who has never shied away from airing his contrarian views. White, whose sharp prose and expansive cultural knowledge make his often confounding takes interesting reads no matter the topic, wrote of Daniels’ film, “Not since The Birth of a Nation has a mainstream movie demeaned the idea of black America life as much as Precious. Full of brazenly racist clichés (Precious steals and eats an entire bucket of fried chicken), it is a sociological horror show.”

White’s invective isn’t just saved for the film’s writer/director: He also chastises two of its producers, Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, who lent their names post-production in an effort to give the small, challenging film a higher profile: “These two media titans — plus one shrewd pathology pimp — use Precious to rework Booker T. Washington’s early-20th-century manifesto Up from Slavery into extreme drama for the new millennium.”

All of which is curious given tt stern-enzi’s polar-opposite take on film (see review below). Like White, stern-enzi is black. And like White, he often sees movies from a different perspective than the critical mass.

I won’t contextualize the following sentence from stern-enzi’s review of the film but to say that it’s at odds with White’s hyperbolic take-down: “Does it matter how ‘real’ she is, both as a character and an embodiment of a socio-cultural dynamic that we haven’t been able to overcome, mainly due to a profound and disturbing lack of interest from either a social science perspective or, more simply, in terms of her American narrative?”

Who’s right? Are they both wrong? There’s only one way to find out: See Precious for yourself.

Opening films:

THE BLIND SIDE — The true story of Baltimore Ravens rookie Michael Oher (played by newcomer Quinton Aaron) gets the big-screen treatment from writer/director John Lee Hancock (The Rookie), who at this stage appears to be the only filmmaker in Hollywood who understands that in real-life dramas about athletics, sometimes there is no big game moment that changes lives forever. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — tt stern-enzi (Rated PG-13.) Grade: B

AN EDUCATION — Lone Scherfig’s An Education is certainly that for the film’s central figure, Jenny (newcomer Carey Mulligan), a gifted student from the London suburb of Twickenham who dreams of studying English at Oxford University. Based on the memoir of British journalist Lynn Barber and adapted for the screen by novelist Nick Hornby, An Education is effective on a variety of levels, none more obvious than Mulligan, a charming 24-year-old British actress with the face of an angel and the emotive skills and screen presence of a star in the making. (Read full review here.) (Opens today at Esquire Theatre.) — Jason Gargano (Rated R.) Grade: B

PLANET 51 — Co-directors Jorge Blanco and Javier Abad’s animated feature centers on Chuck Baker, an astronaut who, upon landing on Planet 51, finds the place inhabited by little green people who think he is the alien in the equation. Features the vocal work of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Jessica Biel, Justin Long, Gary Oldman, Seann William Scott and John Cleese. (Opens wide today.) — JG (Rated PG.) Review coming soon

PRECIOUS — Lee Daniels, in adapting Sapphire’s decade-old novel about a New York City, barely functioning illiterate teenage mother living under the thumb of her own frying-pan-wielding mother, sharply focuses on the girl and her struggle to achieve some semblance of self-realization. (Read full-length review here.) (Opens wide today.) — tt stern-enzi (Rated R.) Grade: A

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON — The phenomenon continues with the second of a proposed four-film series starring Kristen Stewart as a moody teenager who falls for Robert Pattinson’s hunky, surprisingly conscientious vampire. Chris Weitz directs. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide Friday.) — JG (Rated PG-13.) Grade: C


 
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