High School Confidential

Posted in Movies by CulturalMining.com on September 22, 2009

Precious_1Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
Dir: Lee Daniels

To win the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, a movie has to have certain qualities. It should be something unusual and new. It should have a straightforward story, not an ambiguous or ironic one. It should be a moving look at a character who overcomes great obstacles. And it has to feature great, dramatic moments by its actors or characters.

Usually the film will go on to win big at the Golden Globes and Oscars. Past People’s Choice winners include Slumdog Millionaire, Tsotsi, Amelie, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Shine, Roger and Me, and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Precious — this year’s winner — fits all of these criteria.

Clareece "Precious" Jones (Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe) is an overweight 16 year-old girl with a heart of gold who is functionally illiterate, and pregnant with her second child. It’s the 1980’s, and Precious lives her precarious existence in a Harlem apartment with her abusive mother Mary (Mo’Nique). She survives the daily suffering and violence by escaping into vivid fantasies where her life is like a fairy tale and everybody loves her. She is placed in a girls’ alternate school among other drop-outs where a kind teacher and role-model helps her rebuild her life and encourages her to record it all in a small, black notebook.

Sidibe and Mo’Nique manage to give strong performances (the movie is a bona fide tear-jerker) without being mawkish. While it’s simple to tell who the good guys and villains are, the strength of its characters makes this more than just a movie-of-the-week or an interview on Oprah.

Tanner Hall directed by Tatiana von Furstenberg and Francesca Gregorini
Tanner Hall
Dir: Francesca Gregorini and Tatiana von Furstenberg

Another film about an all-girls’ high school in the 1980’s played alongside Precious at TIFF, but two stories couldn’t be more different. In Tanner Hall, rich, privileged girls carry on their mothers’ legacies at an exclusive New England prep school. They order pizza, embroider clothes, gossip, and play practical jokes on teachers. But the idyllic lives of three best friends are disrupted when a death-obsessed, scheming English girl elbows her way in. She uses her knowledge of their secret trysts (on and off campus) to insinuate herself into their more innocent lives, spurring them on toward maturity.

This first film, written and directed by prep-school grads Francesca Gregorini and Tatiana von Furstenberg, seems at times more concerned with the girls’ clothes and hair than their hearts and heads, but the story is still watchable. Aside from an execrable opening scene about a little girl letting a bird out of a cage, the movie is not that bad. Comic relief is provided by Amy Sedaris and Chris Kattan as two teachers trying to improve their sex lives.

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