Turn away if you don’t care to read about Mariah Carey

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.

Weiss Girl Mariah

Since Precious, the Mariah Carey movie that I’m dying to see is not going to be shown in Manila theaters anytime soon, and which might be shown mid-2010, by which time I would have already died from anticipation, I re-watched Wise Girls, a small movie that would have showcased the acting talent of the greatest diva of our time. Wise Girls tells the story of a certain New York-based, mob-run Italian restaurant that serves more than just pasta. Mira Sorvino, Melora Walters and Mariah Carey, who is not bad, play the waitresses. And if you really want to know what it’s about, go to IMDB because what I aim to examine and expound on is how Mariah is not at all a terrible actress as Glitter would have you believe.

Mostly I’m more interested in the experience of seeing a movie than the movie itself and I could say without reservation that Mariah would have been spared the breakdown had this movie been shown ahead of Glitter. If something as reputedly bad as Glitter can be shown in a third world, THX-equipped cinema, months after Rotten Tomatoes and just about every web traffic-hogging blogger had already proclaimed it to be bad, then an indieish movie such as Wise Girls can too, not because we have truly progressed as an above average appreciators of superior films nor because our local distributors never cared much for profit, but because and only because in the year that it was shown, 2002, Mariah was as popular as ever, and any movie that has at least one recognizable name in it will be shown, no matter how marginal the movie’s following is in the States or wherever. And so Wise Girls, the would/should-be launching vehicle of Mariah’s film career was shown here but in stinky SM Manila cinema, a telling sign that we were not going to see her in anything anymore.

I’m more concerned about critics’ assessment of movies so when I watch a movie that has her in it, and there aren’t many, I Google them and forget for a minute that I’m supposed to be doing other things in my life and I make searing commentaries such as this. And rewatching Wise Girls made me conclude, wow, that she isn’t so bad an actress after all. Even though I’m moved to mention her real life capacity for comedy, I could say with only the slightest bit of prejudice that she has put to great advantage her great comedic timing which she is supposed to have in real life. And even without having to say everything I’ve just said, I could never see her as anything but a wonderful human or actress.

I’ve seen this movie in the exact number of times that the average Mariah fan is supposed to watch it, which is to say, countless times, and the scene where she walks in the middle of the restaurant, gets her ass grabbed, and delivers what could have been THE career-shifting dialogue of her acting career, never fails to elicit a fawning, admiring gasp that can only come from someone who has had the nerve to bring his girlfriend to see Glitter and not be ashamed of his skin after pretty much giving away his real nature. And speaking of Glitter, is it really so awful? I think what paved the way for the tomato-throwage was that one corny scene where they were in a club and Max Beesley hands her a mic, done in a hazy, corny, slow motion sequence and she starts to spontaneously sing to the random beat being played. Apart from that scene, what else was so bad I just couldn’t see. Someone remove the blinders from eyes!