Anyone with any real love of cinema, and who lived in the Bay Area (especially the East Bay) before 2000, remembers the UC Theater, probably fondly.
And if you remember this UC Theater, this will take you back:
I should be the perfect audience for Peter Rodger’s documentary. I’m curious and fascinated by comparative religions, and with how every faith creates both humanists and fundamentalists–including atheism.
So it’s with considerable disappointment that I have to report that I didn’t care for Oh My God? It has its interesting moments–enough to keep it from being a complete loss. There are times, especially when Rodger takes his camera to parts of the world where religious conflict has turned violent, that the drama of his subject overshadows the clumsiness of his approach. Those instances are frequent enough, and good enough, to earn this movie a C-, but nothing higher.
The concept: Rodger travels around the world, camera (and presumably crew) in hand, interviewing scholars, celebrities, and ordinary people about who and what they imagine God to be. This could have made a very good documentary, but it didn’t. Among Rodger’s mistakes:
Someone might be able to take Rodger’s outtakes and turn them into a good documentary. Unfortunately, Rodger couldn’t.
Few film-going experiences match this one for intensity. And it’s not the intensity of a good horror film or thriller (although it’s more horrible and suspenseful than most of them). This is the intensity of of life at its most relentlessly depressing and hopeless. And yet, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, manages to find hope. Where there is life, that life can be improved.
True, it carries what may be the most ungainly movie title since The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum at Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade. But like Marat/Sade, it comes with a ready-made abbreviated version. So if you don’t mind, I’ll just call it Precious.
The title character, played by newcomer Gabourey ‘Gabby’ Sidibe, is 16 years old, extremely obese, illiterate, and is pregnant with her second child. And those aren’t her biggest problems. She lives with her bitter, welfare-dependent mother, who abuses her verbally and with physical violence. Her father rapes her regularly, and fathered both children. Her first child has Down syndrome. She escapes into fantasies of glamour and romance. She knows she’s not meant to have any happiness or any sort of future; her mother, who’s jealous that her daughter “stole” her man, reminds of that daily.
The setting is Harlem, in the late 1980’s.
The hope comes when she’s suspended from school and sent to an alternative school, where a single teacher (Paula Patton) helps a very small group of misfits prepare for their GED. Here Precious finds a community, and in the teacher, an authority figure who wants to help her and seems to have the resources to do so.
Another authority figure reaches out to her—a caring social worker played by Mariah Carey. Now, I went to the theater knowing that Carey played this part, and I still didn’t recognize her. Entirely deglamorized, she looked like a normal, moderately attractive woman who didn’t worry much about her appearance when she went to work.
Starting with a character as wretched as they come, Precious takes that character to a point where happiness is possible. But it’s no fairy tale. Don’t expect any happily-ever-after here.
A- Biographical drama
- Written by Helen Crawley
- Directed by Anthony Fabian
Race can be a very difficult thing to define; especially for bureaucrats working for a government where race determines everything.
Sandra Laing (an actual, living person, played here by Sophie Okonedo) was born to white parents in South Africa in 1955, but by all appearances was what the apartheid system called colored (mixed-race). Her parents, staunch supporters of apartheid, fought to have her legally classified as white. Needless to say, their success didn’t solve her racial problems.
Screenwriter Helen Crawley and director Anthony Fabian do an admirable job compressing a story that spans nearly four decades into a running time of less than two hours, without making it feel rushed or episodic. And all this in a story that spans remote outposts, shantytowns, and Johannesburg, taking Laing from boarding school troubles, adolescent rebellion, marriage, and single motherhood.
The real credit for Skin goes to Okonedo, who carries the film as if she was born for the part. True, there’s an age problem. Okonedo was in her late 30’s when the film was shot, and it’s a little hard at first to accept her as a teenager (a much younger actress, Ella Ramangwane, plays her as a child), but after a few minutes you accept the illusion. The youth is there, emotionally if not physically.
It’s great to see Okonedo finally get to play a lead role. She’s given great performances in Dirty Pretty Things, Hotel Rwanda (her Oscar nomination), The Secret Life of Bees, and the recent BBC version of Oliver Twist. Her range is impressive (even if in two of those films she played prostitutes), and her characters have always been complex and believable. And likeable; I always find myself caring deeply for her characters. And I’m pretty sure she’s the only Jew to win an NAACP Image award, for the TV movie Tsunami: The Aftermath.
The rest of the cast is excellent, as well, especially Sam Neill and Alice Krige as her loving but racist parents.