I’ve been lamenting the absence of Quality, Serious, Oscar-whoring films in Manila for such a long time when what I should have been doing was scouring through Makati Cinema Square’s valuable trove of (technically) stolen DVDs, because where else could I find soon-to-be but probably never going to be released underground Mariah Carey movies such as Tennessee and Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire? I haven’t really found either of these two but I’ve seen the Oscar-whoringer movie, Precious because of my precious.
The film is as good and as ‘dark’ as it’s hyped but you’ve seen grittier and obscener Social Relevance Movies because no country does poverty movies quite like the Philippines. Aside from gay indies, Star Cinema rom-coms and Bong Revilla Best Actor-snatching fantasies, we churn as much poverty-themed movies as much as we do cornies. I’ve seen grittier films but none that would have Mariah in them so Precious trumps everything else.
Precious is perceived as ‘dark’ but it makes up for its dark subject, an obese, illiterate and HIV-infected teenage girl, by having elaborate and cute fantasy sequences. It makes you feel a little morose, even more so as the film progresses because the tragedies, in perhaps the same pace as Precious’ pounds, just keep coming at her. It tries to be optimistic but the joys are only fleeting. But despite the outrageous number of tragedies that you could swear is the most that ever befell a teenage girl, something about it rings true, such as having an abusive mother. It’s a little too obvious to say but the thing that makes it work is the acting. It is director Lee Daniels’ genius instinct to obsess over the actors’ faces over anything else because he knew (just as I knew) that his best instrument is an actor’s performance. Wow.
I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that Mariah just might be the new Cher who could win an Oscar, but I hope she does! I’m obviously not the most reliable person to judge her performance based on its actual merits and I’m probably the least reliable, but I’ve thought this over and hard. Mariah’s performance is a big deal because she’s probably the most dubious singer-turned actor to be cast in this type of movie, and it doesn’t help that she’s a big celebrity in a small, prestige movie, which is why it’s hard for some to appreciate the performance, which is the most uncharacteristic she’s ever been as an actress and a diva. In the last scene with Mo’nique (Mary) and Gabourey Sidibe (Precious), Mariah (Ms. Weiss), all in under 15 minutes, did what she can with the little that she has to say, with only that rumble-y, worn out voice, ugly costume, and a veneer of toughness that’s the perfect buffer for Mo’nique’s intense monologue.
Depending on which part of the movie-anticipating part of the world you’re from, wanting to see a movie as hyped as Precious is like wanting to listen to depressing music and expecting to feel something beautiful. Lame analogy, okay, but anyway. We in the third world treat the coming of world cinema as if it’s the second coming because film distribution in our world is slow. I don’t mind very much but it’s annoying anyway. It makes me want to frying pan film distributors’ heads, Mary Jones-style.