Precious (Big Spoiler Alert).

J and I just saw Precious. Here's my take:

It's a very conventional film full of stock characters who never surprise. Some really fine acting (especially Mariah Carey, whose character and scenes are the most interesting). The girl who plays Precious is natural and appealing on film but not remarkable in any way, which might just be because there's not much very interesting or complex about the character.

There's this conceit where, when things get really rough for Precious, she mentally exits into a fantasy world where she is a model or a pop star or a singer in a gospel choir with her fantasy boyfriend, but it's kind of cheesy and doesn't ever come together to inform or interact with the real world of the film.

J was exasperated by some sloppy filmmaking, microphones visible at the edges of some shots. I never notice that stuff, but he does and it drives him crazy. It would annoy me, too, but I just don't see it.

What annoyed me is that in such a preachy film, the protagonist's choice to raise her two children on her own instead of giving them up for adoption was presented as the brave moral choice. An uneducated, emotionally and psychologically damaged 16-year-old HIV+ homeless girl with no family and no resources chooses to keep her retarded toddler and newborn child and we're supposed to applaud her? I'm not passing judgment on any actual teenager's choices; I'm questioning the filmmaker's decision to present this as a virtuous act. Precious says "nobody loves me," and the teacher-with-a-heart-of-gold tells her, "Your baby loves you." So she decides to keep her baby because it is the only being who loves her? Good luck with that, kid.

I left the theater wondering what all the fuss is about. My theory (on the fly -- I have to give this some more thought) is that middle-class white people (audiences, critics) are blown away by this film merely because of the facts of the story. Teenage girl suffers lifelong abuse by her mother, rape by her father and two children by him, chaotic and violent schools and neighborhood. For people who don't live in these neighborhoods, the film is exotic and revelatory at the same time. I make no claims to any special insight into the lives of poor urban black people. I live among them, but for the most part I am not invited into their lives. But I have to say it's no surprise or shock, unfortunately, to hear and see this story. Pretty much since I was 20 I've lived in poor, squalid, urban ghettos. I know the lives of many, many poor black people in this country are bad, are worse than most middle-class white people imagine.