Why Precious Isn't Worth Your Time, Or Oscar's

Gabourey Sidibe in Precious
(Image credit: Lionsgate)

When the Academy Awards nominate a movie for Best Picture, it's supposed to mean something. It actually is an honor to be nominated; it's Hollywood's best and brightest standing up and saying: this movie is worth your time. No matter which of the ten films nominated for this year's Best Picture wins the Oscar, all now carry that distinction. In response, audiences will head to theaters and buy a ticket certain that, though the movie they see may not be the best of the year, it is at least worth seeing. Usually that's true. This year it isn't.

There are many different reasons to see a movie. No one reason is better than the other. Some people see movies for release, some see them looking to be challenged. Others go to the theater to be uplifted or to laugh when real life is bringing them down. Some people like to learn when they watch movies, and so they gravitate towards documentaries or biopics. Still others just want to feel something, anything, if only for a moment or two. Whether you're looking for inspiration and motivation or relaxation and escapism, there's a good movie out there somewhere which can provide it. What matters most when you buy a movie ticket isn't what you take away from it, only that you get something from it. The most egregious pictures aren't always the most poorly made. The most truly heinous films aren't necessarily the ones with bad acting or writing or cheap set design, they're movies that waste your time.

Precious is one such waste of your time. It is well acted. Mo'nique deserves her Oscar nomination even if, let's be honest, at least part of the reason for it is because she isn't wearing makeup and much of her performance involves yelling and throwing things at another actor. Oscar loves that stuff. Still, there's a scene towards the end of the film where she really falls apart that it's hard to imagine anyone else pulling off quite as well. Precious is also a movie well told, artfully directed and presented on screen with craftsman-like skill. It's not like someone left a boom mic hanging in frame. It looks the way a movie about people subsisting on government welfare should look. Technically speaking, Precious does almost everything right, but I think I'd rather have the boom mic.

Mo'nique uses her angry eyes.

Unless you're an industry insider looking for filmmaking tips, there's no reason to see it. Precious does all of those things right but it does one thing wrong: It exists without cause. Precious offers nothing of any real consequence to those who would see it. You'll walk away feeling battered and empty as if, much like the movie's protagonist, you've just been abused. It's not entertainment or even particularly pleasant. Buying a ticket for Precious means choosing to spend a couple of hours watching really mean, obese people beat up on a delusional, obese teenager in a roach motel. You won't find escapism here.

*Warning! Spoilers Follow*

What about inspiration? Maybe that's what Precious brings to the table. You've no doubt heard a lot of talk about what an uplifting movie it is, about how it's a message of hope. Unless you're an asshole who finds comfort in the suffering of others, it isn't. When the movie begins it's the story of an obese, poverty-stricken, illiterate teenager named Precious who's been raped by her father, is still being raped by her mother, and is pregnant with her second incest baby. When the movie ends, it has become the story of an obese, poverty stricken teenager who has worked and struggled and fought and is now no longer being raped by her mother but will soon be dead of AIDS instead. Or if the AIDS doesn't kill her the diabetes probably will. When the movie ends Precious has no future, no outlook, no bright and shining sun on the horizon. She's as screwed and doomed as she was when the movie begins. That's hope? It's more like M. Night Shyamalan's worst ever twist ending.

It's like Passion of the Christ without the happy ending that happens off camera, the one where Jesus gets resurrected and washes away mankind's sins. At least for Jesus, it was worth the effort. For Precious, it isn't. Imagine if Jesus' story ended with him being resurrected only to discover he has syphilis and that god had changed his mind, decided man wasn't worth saving, and was just going to flood the whole place again. That's Precious.

Precious isn't a movie about hope or achievement. If there's any message in Precious it's that no matter how hard you work and struggle it probably won't do any good. Precious goes to school and tries to better herself, but she could have stayed illiterate and stupid for all it matters, in the end she's still screwed. Education without the opportunity for application is useless. For Precious, nothing changes, you might even say things get worse. No, this is not an inspiration or a source of motivation. It's just awful people, in awful situations, who are well and truly screwed. If Precious moves you or changes you, it can only do so by influencing you towards a deep, dark, hopeless depression. The best comforts Precious can offer are of the dubious, thank god it's not me variety.

Precious helped by thin people.

But in even the worst situations, there are lessons to learn. Perhaps Precious is a cautionary tale? Planning to rape your kid any time soon? Then watch this to find out what might happen. For the other 99.999% of us, there's nothing we need to know here. Is this a movie which speaks to our culture or in some way shines a light on a growing problem hidden in our urban sprawl? Not unless you believe poor people are by nature abusive rapists. No, this is a movie about one, specific set of terrible people in one, specific place. Trying to give this movie some broader meaning beyond that smacks of condescension at best and racism at worst.

There are evil people in the world. This isn't the result of some cultural flaw or some failing in our society. We aren't responsible for them and there's no realistic way we can spot them or stop them. Here are some of them and, if you accept Precious's world view, they cannot be defeated. Or is the message here that we should be suspicious of anyone who's fat? It's hard not to notice that everyone who abuses Precious is dangerously overweight, while everyone who helps Precious is thin. I wonder if they've shown this movie to the people at Southwest Airlines? It would explain a lot.

Precious is like the world's least enjoyable horror movie. Only in this horror movie there's no payoff. It's a series of sweaty, horrifying attacks with no real goal. It's a sadistic assault on its audience, an attack on your time, which it's wasting. Some stories simply don't deserve to be told and this miserable, bitter, cynical story is one of them. Precious isn't worth your time, or Oscar's.

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Josh Tyler