Cornered by poverty, darkness, Harlem, flatiron buildings, and close-set eyes, Precious survives. Lee Daniels directs Gabourey Sidibe, Paula Patton, Mo'Nique, and Mariah Carey, among others, who make up the stellar cast of Precious, based on the book Push by Sapphire. The screenplay closely follows the book, which is set in 1987 Harlem.
After sweeping Sundance, Precious opens in theatres everywhere giving audiences across America today and days to come a peek at a real contender. Daniels does not play loose with the facts and the narrative of the book. Precious narrates her story in her own words. She tries to tell herself and others what happened at the hands of her mother and father. The sexual abuse is downplayed in the film but is evident and obvious. Precious' transformation from illiterate to GED candidate is not clearly laid out. Her academic struggles are a blur. And the director chooses instead to open a window into the young women who attend the Harlem alternative school under the tutelage of the soulful and beautiful teacher, Miss Blue Rain (Paula Patton). Miss Rain is the first person to show Precious she is lovable and not just a lump of coal in a seat who can't read, write, speak, or spell English. Precious admits she is not good at anything but cooking and escapism.
Black Precious is the white girl in the mirror, who would rather be normal. This is also the dilemma of director Daniels — how to convey that the heroine is not normal. He uses handheld camera techniques and close-ups on glamour-less faces of familiar stars. They are not their normal glamorous selves and neither is the girl they are trying to help. He nails the classroom scenes where backbiting and bitching lurk. The camaraderie among the students of Miss Blue Rain is special. They laugh at Precious behind her back but befriend her in the end.
Daniels alternates the dark side of life for Precious with scenes of success and a light-skinned boyfriend that invade life's rough patches. Pig’s feet cooking in a pot close-ups serve as a metaphor involving coercion and force that Precious must cook, serve, and eat without complaint. Daniels keeps it stark. However, the cutaway moments he employs are brilliant and you forget that they are the defense mechanisms Precious relies on to survive. The film runs 110 minutes and is rated a strong R for language and depictions of sexual abuse.
Okay, predictions: Lee Daniels directed Halle Berry in Monster's Ball and there are some parallels here. Mo'Nique, who plays Mary (the mother), is stunning and powerful. Daniels has directed her and potentially Sidibe right into nominations for their roles. Does the film bear the hallmarks of an Oscar nomination? I would have to say yes, it does.