Dark, emotionally charged "Precious" will stay with you
“Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" is a harrowing film experience, with heavy, downbeat subject matter that's not easily accessible to the movie-going masses. Difficult to watch, it's an intelligent, powerful low-budget film that's rightfully been garnering acclaim on the festival circuit during the last year and likely to win many more awards. It also features two of the year's most riveting performances from comedian Mo'Nique and newcomer Gabourey Sidibe.
Morbidly obese, illiterate 16-year-old Claireece "Precious" Jones (Sidibe) lives in the New York City neighborhood of Harlem with her dysfunctional family; she has been impregnated twice by her father, Carl, and suffers constant physical and mental abuse from her unemployed mother, Mary (Mo'Nique). The family resides in low rent housing and subsists on welfare. After becoming pregnant again, Precious is encouraged to attend an alternative school called Each One Teach One where she hopes that her life can change direction.
Precious fights to find a way out of her taunting world through her imagination and fantasy such as music videos and walking the red carpet as a superstar. Through the help of her teacher at her school, Ms. Rain (Paula Patton) and a social worker (Mariah Carey), she begins to read, discover her talents and learn more about her past. But she must get past her monstrous mother and other huge challenges before she can find real acceptance.
"Precious" is an exceedingly dark but courageous film that explores many relevant societal topics - poverty, literacy and education – along with more taboo subjects such as incest and teenage pregnancy. An adaption of the 1996 novel "Push" by Sapphire, actually tones down the intensely explicit sexual nature of the book but still gets its message across vividly. Directed by Lee Daniels, director of "Shadowboxer" and producer of "Monster's Ball," he handles the challenging source material superbly, crafting a dark piece of work that's still peppered with some humor, especially in the way Precious escapes from her awful world, through fantasies of being a musical superstar (not to mention the fact that Precious can literally pack a punch herself when she wants).
Told through the eyes of Precious herself, it's really all about a young woman's escape from the war zone she's known to be her life for acceptance and genuine love, and the film is essentially broken into three parts. Precious before her journey out, Precious learning to find her way out, and then Precious escaping. Her biggest challenge is getting past a monstrous mother who's largely responsible for it all: the rapes, the babies, the poverty, illiteracy. The first and last sections have considerable emotional heft with the middle section slightly weaker with difficulty getting past some after-school special contrivances and stereotypes.
"Precious" really boils down to a two-person showdown, between her and her mother, played out astonishingly with two devastating, Oscar-worthy performances from newcomer Sidibe, in the year’s breakout role, and the film's most-talked about performance from Mo'Nique as the mother from hell (you'll absolutely gasp at her abuse). Sidibe is absolutely convincing in a brave, moving performance that anchors the film, who really just wants a better life and who realizes what she must do to get it; the look of anguish and pain on her face is so easily understood that Daniels stages many wordless scenes just by focusing on her face.
Mo'Nique will have heads turning in a powerhouse, startlingly realistic turn as Precious' brutally abusive mother, with the fun-loving comedian playing sharply against type. The pair's final, heartbreaking scene, where Precious discovers the truth behind all the madness and pain, is one of the most shattering scenes seen in recent memory and of itself Oscar-worthy.
Without Mo'Nique and Sidibe's unflinching portrayals, "Precious" probably wouldn't be near as good, as the script from newcomer Geoffrey Fletcher doesn't quite flesh everything out in its weaker midsection. Still, the supporting cast lends a few memorable scenes as well, with Patton contributing a warm performance in an underwritten role, while pop singer Carey - yes that Mariah Carey - is actually quite serviceable in a small but key role. The only one who doesn't really belong is another singer, Lenny Kravitz, whose unnecessary, seemingly truncated role as a male nurse is largely eye candy.
"Precious" has attracted even more attention after it caught the eye of two influential names - Oprah and Tyler Perry - who have championed its cause. The compelling, emotionally charged "Precious" is a cause worth championing, a must-see and one of the year's best films.