In Praise of Awards Season Camp
Every Oscar season, pundits bemoan the preponderance of films that are so safe, they seem to have been designed with an awards blueprint in mind. You'd think then, that the chattering class would be excited by this year's crop of contenders; whether by virtue of the expansion of the Best Picture race or by simple coincidence, some of 2009's nominee hopefuls are over-the-top, outlandish, and, well, as far from Frost/Nixon as can be.
Yet I've read reviews and gotten in countless debates about movies like Precious, A Single Man, and even Inglourious Basterds where the films' wild natures seem to be held against them. Their fantasies are too campy! Their flights of fancy are too popcorny! It's funny, because I agree -- only I think those are good things. Here's a spirited defense of each movie's "excess is best" raison d'être:
Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
Precious wasn't made with awards in mind (as director Lee Daniels has said, he expected the film to go straight to DVD) and the film itself is glorious proof. The title is too much. The protagonist's weight? Too much. It's definitely too much to cast Mariah Carey as a social worker named Mrs. Weiss, but to affix her with a light mustache pushes the "too much" levels past radioactive. By the time classmate Joann (played by the deliriously named Xosha Roquemore) announces with a fierce flourish that her "favorite color is flourescent beige," it's clear that Precious -- thankfully -- is anything but bland.
The film's most divisive touch of excess is its fantasy sequences. When Precious is feeling as beaten down as can be, she's given to vivid imagination, and her rape is obscured by a ripped-open ceiling, a miserable existence left behind to escape to a rap video dream world. Over the top, as its detractors claim? No more so than elsewhere in the film, when a hairy-armpitted Mo'Nique gyrates in a leotard in front of the TV -- yes, it's that kind of movie. There is one ridiculous fantasy -- Precious imagining a beatific Mo'Nique in the context of Vittorio De Sica's Two Women (as unlikely a film to be playing on their TV as possible) -- but honestly, I could use a few more ridiculous fantasy sequences in my Oscar bait. It's a sign of pulling the stops out and going for broke, and Daniels was fortunate enough to have an actress like Gabourey Sidibe who could ground every out-there impulse in something real. If a movie this wild can be an Oscar frontrunner, I can't be mad at it.
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