Forgive the pun, but child abuse is a very touchy topic. This was all I really knew about this film upon entering the theater for what I will truncate as Precious. All I knew was that it was about a pregnant 16-year-old who is carrying her father’s child. If you think that is more than enough to turn you away then you’ll be missing out on one of the year's most superbly acted films.
Mo’Nique is not whom you’d call a household name and with her past choices in film and her stand-up, it’s not totally surprising. Okay, she may be a household name for some, but not for your standard Utah art house crowd. If she keeps giving performances like her portrayal of Mary, lead character Precious’s (Gabourey ‘Gabby’ Sidibe) mother, she will be.
Gabby Sidibe has never been in a film before and again forgive the pun, has quite a heavy load to bear. Playing an obese 16-year-old teen impregnated by her mother’s boyfriend (who also happens to be her own father) who is also illiterate is more than most actresses would ever dream of attempting in their film debut.
While she holds up very well in the dramatic and surprisingly hilarious moments, I truly hope she isn’t another one-trick pony who winds up suffering from Jennifer Hudson Syndrome. After bursting into the Hollywood spotlight in her Academy-nominated role in Dreamgirls, Hudson has since been degraded to second fiddle roles in the likes of the Sex and the City film or has taken part in films that most have not seen (Winged Creatures, The Secret Life of Bees).
In Precious we meet the young title character who likes to be called by her middle name, which is Precious. She lives with her mother, Mary, who is abusive beyond the likes I’ve seen in films lately. Here is a mother who is not scared to beat her child, smoke a cigarette while holding a newborn, and will throw a television set at your head down a flight of stairs.
One morning Precious is called to the principal’s office where Mrs. Lichtenstein (Nealla Gordon) asks point blank if she’s pregnant with her second child; she is, upon which she is discharged from school. Mrs. Lichtenstein later stops by their apartment and informs Precious of an alternative school called Each One Teach One because Precious happens to be very gifted in math, so why not in the rest of her schooling?
Here Precious meets a group of girls not too much unlike herself — outcasts who just want to do well enough if not better for at least an inkling of hope for their futures. She also meets Ms. Rain (Paula Patton), who is the nicest anyone has ever been to Precious. She believes in her and loves her and wants what’s absolutely best for her. Precious has also been spending time with a social worker, Mrs. Weiss (a very drab looking Mariah Carey) who just wants Precious to come to terms with the truth of her life situation so she can keep receiving welfare payments to provide for her children.
Precious doesn’t always live in reality. Intermittent flashes of glitz and flash are sprinkled throughout whenever life gets just a little too rough for her. This is a good thing as it also gives her the hope that there is a good life that may be out of reach but at least gives her something to look forward to even if only in her own head.
When the moment of truth is revealed in Mrs. Weiss’ cubicle as Mary is reunited with Precious after the girl has spent some time living with Ms. Rain and her life partner (yes, Ms. Rain happens to be a lesbian, which Precious finds very amusing) we get the moment of a lifetime for Mo’Nique. As her character struggles to bring everyone to light the circumstances behind everything they’ve gone through as a family her lip quibbles, her grammar stutters and the tears begin to flow.
While the powerhouse performances strictly belong to Mo’Nique and newbie Sidibe, much press has been given Mariah Carey. While she does seem to be not wearing any makeup and sports her worst hairdo ever and definitely gives what is actually a performance in a film, it is not what you’d call the performance of a lifetime. Or maybe it is, and this is the best we’ll ever see of her (which could be true considering what we’ve seen in the past).
The handheld camera work from director Lee Daniels throws you into every scene headfirst and leaves you spellbound by what’s taking place. Most of the movie is what you could call a train wreck but not because of shoddy production values. This is very well made and is portrayed with such raw brutality and realism that you buy every little thing that happens throughout.
This is a movie that is not afraid to bully you into a corner, give you a black eye, and send you to bed with no dinner. It’s that tough and that draining. In one word: exhausting. As soon as the film was over all I could do was breathe a sigh of relief but it was only because the onslaught would continue no more. During a particular scene a character, Rhonda (Chyna Layne), is asked if she knows what the word “unrelenting” means and surprisingly she does. This also appears to be the director’s intent and he pulls through admirably.
Photo courtesy Lionsgate