Friday, 11 September 2009

Loved unseen

Sometimes there is that movie, or performance that captures you heart even before seeing it.
Every year that happens to me.
Last year it was Viola Davis in "Doubt", mainly because the work she had done in the past just made me believe she would knock it our of the park.
And in less that eleven minutes of screen time, she did just that.

This year, as anyone who has read my blog will know, it is all about Gabourey 'Gabby' Sidibe in 'Precious'.
Ever since Nathaniel over at 'The Film Experience' mentioned her as a contender for Best Actress back in early 2008 (such vision!), I have been following the making of the film and sat nervously while it was being screened at Sundance to await a verdict.

Now, so much attention was given to Mo'Nique (who has cemented herself as not only a nominee for Best Supporting Actress, but also a very probably winner of the award) at the time that people failed to remember the reaction the star of the film received:
"A huge amount of the credit must go to newbie Gabourey Sidibe, who plays Precious. Her performance is so thorough, so all-encompassing, so natural, that a fantasy sequence where she's not talking like a mumbly ghetto girl is actually shocking. There's one scene at the end where a teary-eyed Precious gets a little too poetic and speechtastic for the character, but Sidibe makes it work. She sells every moment of pain and self-doubt and self-loathing with bottomless sincerity and truth. It's a stunning debut." - Devin Faraci for CHUD

"played with astonishing rawness by newcomer Gabourey Sidibe.......Sidibe's performance as Precious is fantastic -- fully realized, perfectly authentic, and without a hint of contrivance." Eric D. Snider - Cinematical

"Front and centre is newcomer Gabourey ‘Gabby’ Sidibe whose brave performance as the teenager Precious Jones is one of the most electrifying debuts in years. " Mike Goodridge - Screen International

"Newcomer Gabourey Sidibe lends "Precious" such openness and vulnerability that occasionally it feels we are watching a cinema verite documentary, not a fictional feature. " Emanuel Levy

"As Precious, Sidibe is superb, allowing us to see the inner warmth and beauty of a young woman who, to her world's cruel eyes, might seem monstrous." Duane Byrge - The Hollywood Reporter

"Gabby Sidibe is remarkable as Clareece "Precious" Jones" - Peter Bradshaw - The Guardian

"actress Gabourey Sidibe plays her without a flicker of sentimentality, but with barely visible tremors of emotion that cue us to everything this arrested girl is holding back. ......... it's a potent and moving experience, because by the end you feel you've witnessed nothing less than the birth of a soul"- Owen Gleiberman - Entertainment Weekly
Those are not reviews people should ignore.
Yes I know I have posted all this before and it seems like overkill, but my reasoning is this: Every year people complain that the Best Actress race is weak.
And this is true, year in and year out.
However, this year you have two performances that have been raved about (Sidibe and Carey Mulligan for 'An Education') and yet so many predictors are sticking with Mulligan over Sidibe.
Am I saying they are wrong?
Not at all, but why does the thin cute white girl seem like a better bet? Or did I just answer my own question?
Does an unconventional (read not white, thin, or beautiful) actress fair better in the Supporting category, hence Mo'Nique's dominance in discussions there? the end I think the performance will speak for itself and the buzz from festivals will probably be enough to get enough seats in theatres to make it a modest success financially.
Also once the Academy gets to see Gabby as herself (like in this Cannes interview) they will be amazed how this intelligent, effervescent and talented woman was able to become this horribly abused and repressed 16 year old. My hope is that they will not be able to not seriously consider her for a nomination.

You may also ask how can I be so behind a film I have yet to see? Well, I read the book, and if the film only captures 1/5 of the essence and power of the book, I will love it (I read it five times in a row).
Those are pretty damn good odds for me to give over to it completely already.
There is also something about an untrained newcomer making such a mark with people, that you wonder how some of these so called 'trained' actors get work. I love the untapped potential there is in the world. Remember Gustea in 'Ratatouille' when he said:
"What I say is true - anyone can cook... but only the fearless can be great."
Well that goes for everything. (In writing this I did have to wonder if some fellow actors may resent an unknown non actor being so good right off the bat?)
For Sibide to take on this role (and indeed for everyone taking part in this film) shows incredible fearlessness. That should always be rewarded.

One of my favourite pieces about the film came from Entertainment weekly where they spoke to the actresses and reading this actually gave me goosebumps:
But the hankies really came out when Mo’Nique and Patton were asked what they learned from watching Ms. Sidibe’s performance. Patton said she’s “in awe” of the younger actress’s talent; Mo’Nique’s opinion cannot be paraphrased properly. “I would have to say security,” she said, gravely serious. “To play a role like that. To be abused like that. And to be called fat, stupid, and dumb, and obese, and black as in a negative. That’s a security, baby, that I don’t know how many people have. Because what they said as a character is what we as fat people hear when we’re not in character. So to hear that, and to get up, and say, ‘What’s next?’ She taught me security. Just a sense of security to say, ‘Whatever you want to call me, whatever you want to say, watch me stand.‘” (At this point in the interview, everyone, including the journalist, was crying.) “I don’t know how I could have dealt with that. To be able to hear “Cut!” and then giggle? I’m looking, like, ‘B—-, you are my hero!”
Read the full article here

Whatever happens, Sidibe will be remembered. Whether this will lead to other work is beyond me. There isn't a lot of good roles written for black women as it is, yet alone sisters of size - they usually get 'best friend to the gay boy' roles.
Here is hoping things change in Hollywood a little, and the packaging the talent comes in no longer will matter.


seanisbored said...

This post summed up all of my feelings for this movie and my hopes for Gabby and Mo'Nique come Oscar time. Thanks.

Michael Parsons said...

Thanks. Much appreciated. What is sad is that because she is fat, black and not conventionally beautiful people have a hard time imagining her on the red carpet for 'The Oscars' as a nominee, and for good reason. Hollywood is nothing if not shallow.