At last night's opening of the 32nd Denver International Film Festival , the buzziest-film of the moment, Precious, was shown to a sold-out crowd at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. Best of all, the Colorado-based producers, Sarah Siegel-Magness and her husband Gary Magness, were on hand as well as the film's director, Lee Daniels.
My quick headline is this: Mo'Nique and the film's star, Gabourey 'Gabby' Sidibe, better start picking out some nice dresses and looking into stylish wheelbarrows because they are going to haul away awards next year.
Everything you've heard about the film is true and yes, it's tough to watch. Reid and I were both afraid and came armed with tissues, bracing ourselves for a deep dive into violence and despair.
"But, it will be good for us," he said.
"Got to be done," I said.
Daniels must have picked up on our collective trepidation. Before the film began, he gave a brief introduction, promising that all was not dark. "There are funny parts too!" he insisted. (He's right, there are.) "And we did a lot of laughing while making this, so keep that in mind."
He also confessed difficulties in getting the film made. I'd learned in an earlier interview that it took Daniels eight years to convince the poet, Sapphire, to hand over the rights to her non-fiction story for the film. There were, ahem, other challenges as well."Even if you're got an Oscar on your resume (he produced 'Monster's Ball' in 2001)," he said, his voice cracking, "nobody in Hollywood wanted to hear anything about a movie focusing on a fat, black girl."
In the end, he found his true believers in - where else? - Colorado. Gary and Sarah Magness and their production company, Smokewood Entertainment, invested in Daniels and the film long before Oprah and Tyler Perry showed interest. Daniels said point-blank that the film would not have been made without their support. Cool, eh?
I'm so glad he persisted. The resulting film presents with Clareece "Precious" Jones, an obese, illiterate, sexually-abused teenager. She lives with Mary, her angry, abusive welfare-dependent mother who seems entirely void of love. Mo'Nique, better known as a comedienne brimming with light and love, completely transforms herself into a monster for this role. Truly, it is frightening. In a recent interview, Daniels said "Mo'Nique makes Baby Jane look like Cinderella."
Hats off to Daniels, for pulling riveting performances out of his entire cast and to screenwriter Geoffrey Fisher, who handled Sapphire's poetry with great care. But it's Gabby and Mo'Nique who steal the show. (Mariah Carey is also worth noting. She steps out of her diva-ness to play a dowdy social worker and holy-glitter, comes through with a spot-on performance.)
In the end, Reid and I were not as emotionally drained as we'd expected. Yes, the images and the dialogue were hard to absorb sometimes but for me, it was the indomitable spirit of the character, Precious, that I took home with me, not the nightmare stuff. You can't imagine how much this girl has been through and yet she moves onward and upward. Having character voice-over narration really helped, you felt she was taking you in to her confidence.
In January, the film won both the audience and grand jury prizes at Sundance Film Festival. In September, it won the Toronto International Film Festival's audience award. No other film has garnered all three kudos. 'Precious' opens nationally on November 20 - bring tissues!