February 06, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened After I Saw 'Precious'...

Imagine seeing Gabourey Sidibe and Gay Talese in the same room together...and then hearing the veteran journalist ask her an interesting but excruciatingly long-winded question relating to a recent op-ed he read in the paper.

As old-time broadcaster Mel Allen might say, "How about that?"

How about it indeed. Strangely, this improbable coincidence (or at least, that's the way it seemed) occurred after a regular showing of Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire at a movie theater down on 42nd Street, which I attended. The proceedings started when someone "took the mike" and announced that actress Sidibe, whose astounding performance in the film was the movie's bedrock, would be appearing after the film to discuss it and answer questions.

I think my companions and I were all thinking the same thing: Good thing we didn't see From Paris with Love tonight, huh?

On a more serious note, I had wanted to see Precious for a while because I knew it would be a very well-made film...though I was worried I wasn't going to be able to watch most of it owing to the horrifying subject matter, which concerns the agonizing physical, sexual and verbal abuse of an obese teenager (played by Sidibe) living in 1980s Harlem by her brutal mother (a magnificent Mo'Nique) and vile rapist father. And although I did keep my hand over my eyes for about half of the film, I'm very glad I saw it. The direction by Lee Daniels and the performances are astounding, especially Sidibe's, whose character's life seems to have permanently crashed around her, and Mo'Nique's, portraying--against type--a terror who ranks among the great screen villains of all time and makes a speech at the end that has to be seen to be believed. Although the film is a bit long and is almost impossible to watch at many points (the scenes of abuse will, I guarantee it, shock and infuriate you through your tears), it is alleviated with moments of humor and hope that imbue it with great humanity. A finely crafted film.

And of course, there was Gabby at the end to top it all off.

Wonderfully, the affable Ms. Sidibe discussed her role in the film and answered questions for about a half hour following the movie--including an inquiry from me about how much improvisation she and her co-stars did in the film. (As part of her answer, she noted that about 75 percent of the film was scripted, and much of the classroom material was improvised from the capable ensemble.) Then Gay Talese, dressed to the nines in a vibrant suit, asked Sidibe in an exceedingly tiresome fashion about whether she'd want to write a letter in response to an op-ed piece in a very well-known New York newspaper that called attention to the film's social context. Sidibe responded very well (especially off-the-cuff) to this rambling question, suggesting that the issues in Precious were universal.

No, this wasn't staged, my friends. It was a true New York moment.

Anyway, it was an extraordinary end to an extraordinary evening, and as the Oscars approach, I know whom I'm going to be rooting for.

It won't be the cast from From Paris with Love, that's for sure.

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