Normally, you'd have to drag me kicking and screaming to a movie entitled PRECIOUS. A film produced by Oprah and Tyler Perry, no less. Nothing against these giants of entertainment but...I'm not first in line for their projects, let's face it.
But I trust Roger Ebert. And Roger Ebert gave the film four stars. And I hadn't been to the movies in a while. And neither THE HURT LOCKER nor UP IN THE AIR had opened in the Boston area, so...it was either PRECIOUS or the Nick Cage BAD LIEUTENANT sequel or remake or whatever it is, which Roger also recommended. LIEUTENANT started at 5:25, PRECIOUS at 4:10. Didn't feel like eating at 8. So I went to see PRECIOUS.
It's not a great film. It may not even be a good film. It is gritty and it pushes all kinds of buttons about abuse and poverty and...it's really what you expect it to be.
But then, there's Mo'Nique.
Not a big fan of the solo-named actors. I mean, look at Cher. Good actress. Won an Oscar. But, all these years later, she's still a punch-line, and I think a main reason for that is her single name. Okay, quick, everybody--let's holler out Madonna's movie hits:
Okay, maybe EVITA wasn't too bad.
But you get my point.
Anyway, back to Mo'Nique. I don't know much about her. I know she's done some TV acting, some stand-up, some TV hosting. Pretty much thrived in the "celebrity" category. I mean--the name. It's the name. What else could she be but a celebrity?
Well, I'm here to tell you this woman is an actor.
Over the years, I've been an avid moviegoer (not so much this year, but...) and, maybe, five or six times in the past twenty years or so I've come out of a movie blown away by a performance. Robert Duvall in TENDER MERCIES. John Voight in COMING HOME. Emily Watson in BREAKING THE WAVES. Cate Blanchette in NOTES ON A SCANDAL.
Mo'Nique (fix your name, girl!) delivers that kind of performance as the mother of Clareece "Precious" Jones in PRECIOUS. Gabourey Sidibe is terrific in the title role, and she will be nominated for everything. But the heart and soul of this picture is Mo'Nique. As the film progressed, I was impressed with her work, but, truth be told, it appeared to be a one-note performance, which I was blaming on the writer and the director. However, as the film concludes, she is given a scene where she has to try to explain the abominable things she has done to her daughter, and while her abominations are waaaaay beyond forgiveness, Mo'Nique somehow manages (with the help of the writer and director, of course) to bring the viewer into her world, not really to accept it, or even to understand it--but to know it. It is a harrowing, magnificent scene.
And this actress nails it.
Except for maybe the Duvall performance, which is subtle perfection from first frame to last, what distinguishes the other three performances mentioned above is the bravery which the actors must have to bring the characters honestly to the screen. Mo'Nique's performance in PRECIOUS is brave to the nth degree. It is brutally honest and shattering. She has revealed that she was molested by a family member as a child, so what she brings to the screen, she brings with a backstory.
If there is any justice out there, the Best Supporting Oscar must be hers. Duvall and Voight won for their performances. Watson and Blanchette did not. So I'm two for two.
For the record, her name is Monique Imes. I'd go with that.