Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (2009) dir. Lee Daniels
Starring: Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Paula Patton, Lenny Kravitz, Mariah Carey
By Alan Bacchus
Another stunner of a film is Lee Daniels’ harrowing urban character study of an inner city overweight black teenager who strives to overcome her lifetime of socio-economic despair.
Claireece Jones (Sidibe) is known as “Precious” by her mom Mary (Mo’Nique) after the embroidered pillow she lay upon in her bed as an infant. Unfortunately it’s been a while since she was treated as precious. Her entire life she has endured daily physical and emotional fits of rage from her mother, a chronic welfare case who continually degrades her daughter as ‘fat’ and ‘stupid’. Precious has been out of school ever since she gave birth at age 15 to a child. Since then her mother demands that she get on welfare to bring money in. When Precious is invited to attend an alternate studies school to help her literacy and get her GED the decision makes for a viciously violent fit of rage from Mom.
But Precious does go to school where she finds optimism in her caring teacher Ms. Rain (Patton). It takes a while but Precious’ social barrier weakens and for the first time she develops a coterie of friends. Just when things are looking up a dramatic plot turn sends all her progress back down to the depths of despair. Her escape from the abuse in her life will take the loving and caring of her friends and the personal ambition to make something of herself.
We’ve never seen a film like this before. The gritty urban decay of the inner city welfare families is brought to life with earth shattering fury.
It isn’t until the end when the depths of Mary’s emotional despair are revealed. In a stunning scene of raw acting power Mo’Nique who plays Mary instantly announces herself a lock for a Oscar nomination. While the anger and rage of the earlier shouting matches are visceral enough to startle us it’s Mary’s dramatic confessions with Precious’ welfare officer which elevate Mo’Nique’s performance to astonishing levels.
Mariah Carey, dressed down and without make-up, plays the welfare worker. It’s a surprisingly truthful and compassionate performance, a far cry from her exploitive fleshy music videos and that Razzie Award for “Glitter”. Carey has the chops.
But it’s the fresh face of Gabourey Sidibe who carries and holds the picture down and roots it in real world authenticity. Her obese figure immediately makes her stand out. Precious is a large woman, caused by her mother’s force feeding through her innate need to subjugate and punish her daughter. One would expect to find an inner beauty beneath her exterior, and indeed it’s there but we can see an edge in Precious which could bring her down the same path of gloom as her mother.
At times the film would appear to beat us down with Precious’s obstacles, not only is she obese, illiterate, and has an illegitimate child at 15 there’s a number of other jaw-dropping revelations which complicate her life even further (I can’t ruin anything here this early).
“Precious” is a special film and will make its waves here at Sundance. It announces a major acting talent in Mo’Nique and enlightens a recurring cycle of welfare abuse in inner city America. The film should have no problem finding a distributor and commanding the attention of audiences.