Sunday, May 23, 2010
Lee Daniels has two great assets as a director, a poetic, at times spellbinding visual sense and an awe-inspiring rolodex. Daniels is famous today (and deserves to be) for Precious. Shadowboxer (2006), his first feature release has a marvelous assurance for such a strange film, beginning with its completely odd cast.
Daniels first made his mark as a producer, most notably of Monster's Ball, which leads one to wonder if his knack for offbeat casting is not opportunistic. One would not ordinarily think of Helen Mirren as a hitman as she plays in Shadowboxer, but would think of her for the role for which she was cast in Precious, an acid-tongued social worker. Except that Mirren wasn't available, so Daniels cast Mariah Carey. He seems to have a crazy, fling-it-against-the-wall attitude toward casting which so far has paid off.
Mirren's consort is Cuba Gooding, Jr. Their doctor (to patch them up from assassination-related injuries) is Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and his girl friend, called "Precious" is played by Mo'Nique. The ease with which these actors, who presumably all share Daniels as a mutual friend belies the awkwardness of the gathering. The whole thing is bound with a dream-like visual style, linked by close-ups of eyes and bound together with an eclectic score by Mario Grigorov (although I also detected some Piazzolla tangos as well).
The story is preposterous, but has a truth of a fable. I don't know about anyone else, but seeing Shadowboxer, I would have given him the money to make Precious. IMDb lists his future projects as including something called Selma as well as Miss Saigon. I'd like to see those.