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Movie Review: Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire

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Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire is a gutsy, sloppy, and out of control movie overflowing with ideas. It’s sometimes vulgar and sometimes repulsive. It’s always over-the-top melodramatic and seems to have been helmed by a director, Lee Daniels, who never could quite figure out what tone he wished to achieve.

And yet, I’m convinced – as convinced as one can be after only one viewing anyway – it is some kind of masterpiece. I’ve seldom been so captivated and I think a huge part of my fascination was wondering what creative ways Daniels would find next to challenge my sense of taste. He’s one of few directors who truly understand what makes melodrama such outrageous fun.

The story, one young woman’s nightmare, centers on Precious, an obese, black high school student and teenage mother of a young  Down’s syndrome daughter. She has been molested and raped by her father, her mother’s boyfriend, her whole life. She’s now carrying his second child, also from a rape depicted in lurid detail intercut with grease churning in a frying pan.

I won’t continue to describe the depths of despair of poor Precious, just consider it largely the flavor of the movie that I’ve barely even scratched the surface. It’s like an episode of 16 and Pregnant gone to seed. It asks: “How much pain and humiliation can one young woman take and still keep on going, day after day?”

For Precious, as portrayed by Gabourey Sidibe, the answer is: “More than this or any other movie can dish out!” Heck, she barely even flinches when her mom throws a television set down a staircase after her. She’s every street tough troubled teen to ever, you know, get into trouble – all rolled into one. That she never leaves the identifiable behind to become a “Loony Tune” is impressive, and reason to find Sidibe’s performance truly remarkable.

Showier is Mo’Nique as Precious’s mom, Mary. Where Precious is like a composite troubled teen, Mary is a combination of every villainess to ever inhabit a fairy tale. Ordering Precious to cook and clean, she’s Cinderella’s evil stepmom. During the final act, she’s the spitting image of the Queen in Snow White from the coloring of her coat to the painted eyebrows to the pointy bit of black fabric dangling down her forehead. The similarity is uncanny. It’s also interesting that Precious and her classmates are assigned to write fairy tales.

There actually is another director who understands melodrama to this degree and who knows how to milk it for all it’s worth. In tone and demented sense of humor and sheer, gleeful madness invested in its villainess, Precious plays like the work of the “King of Sleaze,” John Waters. His best movie, Female Trouble, tells the sordid tale of young Dawn Davenport, played by Divine.

Dawn hates her mom, she hates her dad, and she even hates Christmas. She runs away from home after knocking over the Christmas tree and promptly gets raped by a greasy truck driver, also played by Divine. She gives birth alone, biting through the umbilical cord, and eventually finds happiness as a fashion model who likes being photographed while committing crimes.

Daniels is clearly a mad fan. Mo’Nique’s turn as the ultimate mother from Hell is filled with Dawn’s mannerisms and fashion sense and ways of reclining on a davenport, dragging on a cigarette. And that grease sizzling away during the rape scene was one scuzzy image. Watch out John Waters. Your title is in jeopardy.

About Todd Ford