Lee Daniels and ‘Precious’ get a healthy NYT Mag word count

Posted by · 5:25 pm · October 21st, 2009

Lee DanielsAs Guy points to the changing face of the typical “Oscar movie,” I’m reminded of a number of Oscar-related conversations as of late.  One question keeps popping through the “What can crack the 10” debate, and that is, “What can actually win?”  Of course, going into the season, the films to beat seem to be “Precious” and “Up in the Air,” based on impressive festival cred.  But other titles have been popping up as possibilities, too.

“The Lovely Bones” certainly seems like an across-the-board player.  And if it lands a slightly unexpected PG-13 rating (it’s looking like it might), then it could prove even more accessible (i.e., commercially successful) than one might have anticipated.  The emotion of the narrative may just be gravy after that.

I get the feeling that, of the other two unseen giants, “Nine” could prove a little too “been there, done that.”  But I think “Invictus,” if it delivers, could land a zeitgeisty message of healing a nation after years of political unrest that might prove irresistible to the Academy (from a McCain supporter, no less).

In truth, however, I keep coming back to “Precious,” with just the right level of art house appeal, social consideration and dramatic flare to make good on its current frontrunner status and survive the season.  And this recent Lynn Hirschberg profile on director Lee Daniels in The New York Times Magazine is stuffed with insights and asides that make the bet feel safer and safer.

First, there are intriguing (though perhaps I’m stretching) parallels to “Slumdog Millionaire” going on both in front of and behind the camera.  As much as I hate to play the “it’s this year’s such-and-such” game, it’s something worth considering.  “Precious is a stand-in for anyone — black, white, male, female — who has ever been devalued or underestimated,” Hirschberg writes in the way of swift analysis.  But there’s also this quote from Daniels:

It was very, very hard to get financing for ‘Precious.’ All the studios said no. They didn’t want to make a film about a 350-pound black girl who is abused. Everybody kept saying no. My whole life was no. It was just a bunch of nos.

There’s even an anecdote about Daniels’s (now former) manager who told the director that no one would see the film.  Anyone disputing the film’s crown jewel status in an underdog season would benefit from a close consideration of this section of Hirschberg’s piece.  And this is the kind of thing the industry is generally keen to reward.

The piece goes on to recount interesting moments along the film’s path to completion (like the fact that actress Gabourey Sidibe came to Daniels’s attention after the director suggested the role of Precious’s mother to Sidibe’s real life mom, a New York subway singer).  It also suggests Mo’Nique’s supposed off-screen diva tactics in supporting the film are at the very least exaggerated given her unmistakable allegiance to Daniels.

Speaking of which, it’s been difficult to get the Best Supporting Actress contender’s comments on the film and her work in it given the lack of public and press appearances, but she gives a nugget of insight into her motivation in the role of a “demon” of a parent:

In part, Mo’Nique was intrigued by the role of Mary Jones because, she says, she was abused by a brother when she was a young girl. The abuse supposedly began when Mo’Nique was 7 and continued for four years. “We wanted people to see the illness,” Mo’Nique explained. “Lee said, be a monster. And my brother was that monster to me. When Lee said, ‘Action,’ that’s who I became.”

There’s more of course.  Like how we have Wes Bentley, of all people, to thank for “Monster’s Ball”; how Helen Mirren, who previously worked with Daniels on “Shadowboxer,” almost ended up in the role that eventually went to Mariah Carey; and the phone call that brought Daniels the news that Oprah Winfrey “wanted to put [her] might behind the film.”  Give it all a look here.

I’d say the film has performed this slow burn nicely, and now, just two weeks from release, it sits poised for public reaction.  I expect it to land just right.

→ 15 Comments Tags: , , , | Filed in: Daily

15 responses so far

  • 1 10-21-2009 at 5:57 pm

    Michael said...

    Can I still have hope for The Hurt Locker?

    Good article, though. Hard to say if Precious will be the knockout that Slumdog was.

  • 2 10-21-2009 at 6:09 pm

    arjay said...

    I’ve been calling a Precious-Bigelow split this year. Precious will hit the elusive oscar soft-spot this year, with plenty of heavyweight support. People will see it as an important film. But Daniels won’t win, instead the oscars will pick Bigelow, partly because her film is great, and partly because this year will highlight how no woman has ever won before.

  • 3 10-21-2009 at 7:14 pm

    BDM said...

    “I’ll never look at a fat girl walking down the street the same way again.”

    I thought he was gay?

  • 4 10-21-2009 at 7:15 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    No black man has ever won the Best Director Oscar either, arjay, so it could go the other way. I am a huge backer of The Hurt Locker (partly because I’m so glad this current war FINALLY has a great film to call its own) so obviously seeing Bigelow win the prize for directing would thrill me, but my anticipation for Precious is reaching catastrophic levels and I could definitely see myself switching my support. It’s not inconceivable that Oscar voters will feel the same way when they see both films.

  • 5 10-21-2009 at 8:42 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    so kris, did you just maybe elude to a lovely bones vs. precious vs. up in the air final show down?

  • 6 10-21-2009 at 8:50 pm

    Me. said...

    Meh to Precious. Overrated. A film that tries to be “hopeful” but left me disturbed and very depressed. The director exagerated with the disturbing parts (SPOILERS: the father in between Precious’ legs raping her and saying “oh yes”, the mother throwing the baby unexpectedly and then throwing a television at Precious, not to mention all of her verbal and phyiscal abuse throughout the entire film. Oh and Precious finding out she has AIDS near the end. She’s pretty much done) to the point were the scenes with Ms. Rain are kind of forgotten when it ends.

    As of now, it’s the clear frontrunner but meh.
    The year isn’t even over and it’s not even on my top 10.

    Anyways, Mo’Nique HAS to win the Oscar, I give you that.

  • 7 10-21-2009 at 10:38 pm

    Zac said...

    Last night, my local movie theater had a holiday movie preview where they showed a bunch of trailers and the attendees were asked to rank their box office potential from 1-10 on a sheet.

    I gave this movie a 4 even though it is high on my list. Unless this movie explodes on the arthouse circuit, I don’t see it hitting mainstream theaters and raking in the big bucks. I would love to be proven wrong though.

    If we would have been asked to grade on how much we want to see the movie based on the trailer, I would have given Precious a 10.

    I hope I can erase from memory the spoilers I accidentally read in #6.

  • 8 10-21-2009 at 10:49 pm

    Jilda said...

    You didn’t really need to write the spoilers in your comment. It didn’t seem like it had point beyond just saying it.

    And Zac,

    I definitely feel Precious will make at least $15 million and with that I think I’m selling it short. It does have Tyler Perry behind so that will guarantee an audience and it’s actually opening in more mainstream theatres in urban neighborhoods and not just small arthouse theatres to help increase the box office revenue. from the Perry fanbase. With potential critical and awards support the film will be successful.

  • 9 10-21-2009 at 10:56 pm

    Brian said...

    I can’t see Bigelow winning director. Her film is, sadly, probably going to be an “also-ran”.

    I also can’t see Jackson winning again, “ROTK” wasn’t that long ago after all. “Lovely Bones” winning Picture is another matter entirely.

    If Eastwood wins it all this year, he better fucking deserve it.

  • 10 10-21-2009 at 10:59 pm

    Zac said...

    To be fair to Me, now that I’ve read the article, that person is just repeating what the article says.

  • 11 10-22-2009 at 1:11 am

    mike said...

    best thing about that article was Helen Mirren taking shot at Brad Pitt , “fake hollywood outsider”? wow.

  • 12 10-22-2009 at 3:28 am

    Glenn said...

    “Precious” doesn’t feel like a split movie. If it wins Best Picture then it’ll win Best Director. It could be Best Director, but not Picture (ala “Brokeback Mountain” another movie that couldn’t have won Picture without Director) but not the other way around.

  • 13 10-22-2009 at 6:58 am

    Sawyer said...

    Funny, I feel exactly the opposite. I think it has split movie written all over it. The Academy will go ga-ga over Sidibe and MoNique, who I think will both win their categories. The screenplay will win, and I’d say it’s the favorite for Best Picture. But Lee Daniels is not going to ride the wave of accolades because he’s still largely unknown in Hollywood circles. Jason Reitman has Juno under his belt, and given that he will have directed 2 best picture-nominated films in a row, the Academy will consider this “his film”.

    Right now, I think Precious wins Best Pic and Reitman wins Best Director. Unless of course they go crazy for Invictus, and then it could be All-Eastwood, All Night.

  • 14 10-22-2009 at 7:40 am

    KBJr. said...

    I’m eagerly anticipating this movie when its available in my area (does anyone know where I can find the release roll-out?)…and it was a good article, that being said…after reading it, Lee Daniels and all of his verbal animation was slightly irritating. Be it the over exaggerations about his life or the (in my opinion) superfluous correlations between his film and Barack Obama.

    I’m a little worried about Mo’Nique too. As a fan of her work, I was excited about her potentially winning and Oscar..but given her deliberately sabotaging her chances, I don’t know anymore. Perhaps there’s a greater strategy on her part, maybe the Oscar means absolutely nothing to her, maybe she doesn’t believe she’d actually win so she’s ignoring the hype. All I know is if she wants the Oscar, she’ll have to play the game…and right now she’s MIA.

  • 15 10-22-2009 at 1:22 pm

    Me. said...

    “You didn’t really need to write the spoilers in your comment. It didn’t seem like it had point beyond just saying it.”

    If you had actually read my post well, you would have noticed that I included the spoilers in order to justify why the film left me so disturbed.