Lee Daniels' Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire ends with a dedication that the film is for "precious girls everywhere." The words will resonate with legions of fans of this tragic true story – women and even men who will identify with a devastating tale of rising above abuse, poverty, addiction, and seemingly insurmountable odds. Bleak, depressing, and shockingly brutal, Precious is the "feel-bad feel-good" movie of the year. It's a
film designed to pummel you with a situation that would send most
humans into a weeping fetal position but to then show you that the
power to overcome is greater than the tendency to shrivel and die. Like
its characters, Lee Daniels' film is not perfect, but I think many,
many viewers will overlook its few flaws and fall for this accomplished
film, one that should speak to "precious girls" all through awards
The title character in Precious is an overweight, struggling young woman named Claireece Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) who has lived through an absolute nightmare for most of her life. She is physically abused by her mother (Mo'Nique) and is pregnant with her second child, both offspring the product of continuous rape by her own father since she was an infant. When her second pregnancy is discovered, she is shuttled off to an alternate education program, where she discovers a true maternal figure in a teacher named Blu Rain (Paula Patton). As more and more positive role models, including a welfare worker played by Mariah Carey and a nurse played by Lenny Kravitz, enter her life, the walls between the fantasy world that Precious has constructed to allow her escape from her urban nightmare and reality start to crumble, giving this outsider a chance at a normal life.
Precious plays like a modern horror movie. (It's certainly scarier than anything the Saw franchise has produced in years.) Watching both of this young woman's children, one of whom is mentally handicapped, literally come close to death at the hands of their abusive grandmother will cause viewers to cover their eyes and turn away more than anything the horror genre has produced in years. But that's what makes Precious effective. Where a lot of other filmmakers would have shied away from the darker elements of this true story, nothing here is sugar-coated. In fact, the story of Precious is so brutal that some viewers are more likely to get numb to the darkness. Daniels does give Mo'Nique, who's very good and likely to be Oscar-nominated, one “evil mother speech” too many, turning her into a bit more of a "Mommie Dearest" character than the film needed. There's a tighter, just-as-dark version of Precious that runs about 15 minutes shorter and doesn't let the repetition of this version drain the story of a bit of its power.
Sidibe is strikingly good, a guaranteed Oscar nominee who knows that the key to this character isn't in the melodramatic speeches but in the quiet, confused moments. My favorite element of the film is watching Precious come out of her shell with her friends. She is that quiet, overweight, morose teenager that is out there on every block in the city hiding her true self. As she realizes that there are people out there willing to be her friend for no reason other than that they enjoy her company and people willing to help pull her from her dire situation for no reason other than that they care about their fellow human beings, Sidibe slowly plays the growing confidence of Precious with a pitch-perfect delivery. The arc of Precious is in watching a girl turn into a woman and realize what she needs to do to leave that damaged young lady of her past behind and Sidibe completely delivers that arc. And the alternate casting of the supporting ensemble is actually thematically relevant, illustrating how we shouldn't judge a book by its cover and that Mo'Nique and Mariah Carey can deliver Oscar-nomination caliber material with the right roles. They're both very good.
Sadly, the story of Precious is probably a common one. Physical and sexual abuse takes a devastating toll on the youth of the world on a far-too-regular basis. The story of Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire is inherently dramatic enough to speak to hundreds of precious girls everywhere. It's well-told enough as a film to speak to millions of viewers, precious girls or not.
Rating: THREE AND A HALF BONES
Release Date: November 6th, 2009
Starring: Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz, and Sherri Shepherd
Director: Lee Daniels
Writer: Damien Paul