Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire will be known throughout the rest of this review as Precious. I do not know anyone who uses the entire clunky title. I understand the need for it to be recognized as being based on the novel, but was there not a better way to go about it? The name change was necessitated by the recent film Push, which told the story of people endowed with special abilities which do not include being overweight and illiterate. Sure, you remember Push, right? It wasn't all that bad. It is no Precious, but it is not all that bad.
Precious has been gathering quite the perfect storm around it as it steams into wide release. It seems like wherever it goes it receives rave reviews. The big question as I went in to see it was whether or not it would live up to the hype. I am happy to report that it does. This is a powerful and moving film that deserves all of the attention it has gotten. It paints a very real, incredibly vivid portrait of dysfunctional life and the people who have to try to live with it.
Yes, the movie can be quite depressing, but there is an undercurrent throughout the entire film that colors the experience. Precious has a great deal of hope. Through all of the abuse and darkness, there is always that glimmer of hope, a ray of potential happiness shining through the gloom that makes the conclusion all the more better — dare I say hopeful?
At the center of our story is Claireece "Precious" Jones (Gabourey Sidibe). She is 16, overweight, illiterate, and pregnant for the second time by her own father. On top of that, school is a minefield of cruel kids who pile on the jokes and abuse and home is no better. Her mother, Mary (Mo'nique), continues the trend of abuse. Precious is physically, verbally, sexually, and emotionally tormented by her own mother.
I was surprised not to find anything saying "based on a true story" anywhere in the opening or closing credits. The film feels as if it were ripped from someone's life to be exposed to the world. Director Lee Daniels and screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher have done something special here — they have put a story on the screen that is gritty and unflinching, yet still gives you that sense of hope while never swaying from reality, never becoming preachy. This is not an easy feat.
We are put right in the story next to Precious. She has been beaten down by life, pushed around, swallowed whole, and spit back out into the dirt. She goes about her life trying to just make it to the next day, not be noticed while she dreams of fame and stardom, walking the red carpet and being cheered by the masses. She also has fantasies of being a skinny white model type. So many societal problems are put on display that it is hard to know where to begin. Some will talk about racial discrepancies, others will speak about what it says about society. I am more interested in the people.
As strong as the screenplay is at capturing realistic dialogue and as good as the direction is at making an immersive experience, this is a movie whose overall ability to connect with and affect an audience relies heavily on the performances. They deliver.
Gabourey Sidibe, known as Gabby to her friends, turns in a heartbreaking, gut-wrenching debut performance that belies her inexperience. She completely embodies the defeated Precious. You cannot help but feel sorry for her. She goes through the best she can, trying to remain off the radar, still retaining that glimmer of hope. Gabby Sidibe is phenomenal here, she will affect you, whether you want her to or not.
Equally effective, but in a different way, is Mo'nique. Her performance opens eyes. I am used to her being the sassy comedienne. Here the jokes are nowhere to be found. Left behind is a woman who, like Precious, has been defeated by life. The distinct difference is how she processes this defeat. She turns it into anger and disgust and directs it at her daughter. It is a powerful performance that initially seems to be one-dimensional, but the further you go, the more you realize there are other things at work.
The supporting cast is rounded out by excellent work from Paula Patton and Mariah Carey (yes, that Mariah Carey). Patton plays Ms. Rain, a teacher at an alternative school Precious attends after being expelled due to her pregnancy. It is a thankless role as it fills the need of having the inspirational teacher see beyond the gruff exterior. Still, she does it with grace and believability. Meanwhile, Mariah Carey has been de-glammed in her role as a social worker. She only has a couple of scenes, but she makes them count. She is restrained and emotional and really brings a certain balance to her scenes.
Bottom line. Precious is a movie that is going to be talked about for some time. From start to finish it is an incredible experience that plumbs the depths of abuse and the lives it destroys and still manages to have that thread of hope. Even better is that the hope is born organically out of the story and the characters and is not tacked in for a merely emotional payoff. Great filmmaking and well deserving of the praise it has received.