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.