Precious is not for the faint of heart. It’s a raw and gritty but ultimately uplifting film that explores the bowels of poverty, misery and abuse, as well as the human spirit and its ability to rise above the most trying of circumstances. The film is drenched in pain, hardship and despair, but by the end it guarantees emotional uplift and a reminder that there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.
Directed with sharp focus and relentless ambition by Lee Daniels (Monster’s Ball), with the novel Push by Sapphire providing source material, the buzzworthy film shares the story of Claireece ‘Precious’ Jones (terrific newcomer Gabourey Sidibe), an obese and illiterate Black teenager living in 1980s Harlem. Sixteen and pregnant with her father’s child, Precious lives in a dingy and dimly lit apartment with her bitter and cruel unemployed mother (comedienne Mo’Nique in a chilling performance) and is abused in almost every way imaginable.
Through her engaging voice-over narration, which provides a contrasting layer of warmth to the movie, we hear her thoughts like (“Sometimes I wish I was dead, but there’s always something in the way”). To cope with her pain she fantasizes about a glamorous life in the spotlight, completed by a “light-skinned boyfriend,” red carpets, high fashion and flashing lights. Understandably, she longs to escape from the trap of poverty, abuse and illiteracy that threatens to destroy her soul.
Expulsion from school offers a blessing in disguise as she is led to an alternative education programme, where she meets Miss Raine (Paula Patton), a good-natured and compassionate teacher, who provides the ray of light Precious has been seeking. Mariah Carey, in a startlingly subtle yet effective performance, appears as a welfare officer seeking answers about Precious’ dysfunctional home life and relationship with her mother.
Precious captures how a lost and damaged girl picks herself up from the most horrific circumstances and steps into the light. Daniels shows courage as a director by treading deep into the pathologies of life in impoverished households and communities, while eliciting award-worthy turns from his cast. Mo’Nique is a clear standout; her performance as the wretched mother is so captivating that she steals every scene she appears in.
Deeply disturbing and provocative, yet well-wrought and superbly acted, Precious is a gem of a movie that could emerge as the darling of the imminent awards season. You know Hollywood is a sucker for a good underdog story.