Precious (2008)

Based on its premise, one might be wary of Precious because of its seemingly depressing content. Precious is indeed an uncensored look at the depravity that some human beings have to face. It follows a poor, illiterate, obese black 16-year-old who has a child and is also pregnant from her father’s rape, and who lives with her unbelievably abusive mother. This heavy material, along with stellar cast, does deliver a very powerful story and message. Luckily, there are enough moments of triumph, optimism, and fantasy to keep this film from being a relentless onslaught of misery.

Precious is a film by Lee Daniels, based on the novel Push by Sapphire (as its subtitle suggests). Daniels understands the reality of the material he’s given to work with, and handles it appropriately. With occasional use of handheld camera shots or invasive shots through a window, peering on the inside, Daniels shoots the film in a way that enhances the realism of the Precious’ life. It’s like we’re there, looking back and forth between Precious and her mother as they shout at each other. The direction may not be the most talked about aspect of this film, but handled a different way, Precious may not have been as emotionally impactful.

What has been talked about is the acting, and with good cause. There’s not a single subpar player among the case, which is rare in that it’s almost entirely female. Lenny Kravitz is the only male in a substantial, reoccurring role, and his enjoyable performance is merely a small treat in comparison to the rest of the cast.

The titular character is played by Gabourey Sidibey in her first role ever. Sidibey is excellent. This is a very difficult role that required a talented performer, and it’s fantastic that they found such a suitable actress in an acting rookie. Sidibey brings the emotion and strength required for Precious and keeps us rooting for her the entire film.

Conversely, Mo’nique plays Precious’ mother. I’ve only seen clips of Mo’nique as her television personality, but from what I’ve seen, there might as well be two entirely different people. Mo’nique is downright scary as an abusive and vindictive mother. The hatred that beams from her eyes as she stares holes into Precious are enough to make us feel sorry for the protagonist without anything more going on. It is Mo’nique’s unbridled performance that brings the element of absolute dread for Precious into the film, and I don’t know if anyone is more deserving of the award for Best Supporting Actress this year.

Mariah Carey also does a fine job in a role that strips her of all her usual beauty and glamor, but her screentime is less than you’d expect from what reviewers have been saying. Paula Patton has the considerably larger role of Precious’ teacher, and she brings a great performance that adds encouragement and hope to the movie.

Despite the severity of Precious’ issues, the film lets the viewer up for air plenty of times. Precious escapes into her fantasies sometimes, whether it’s of her singing and dancing, or of photographs of people talking to her. There are scenes with her and her friends from class laughing and having a good time, scenes that let the audience see Precious as a normal teenager in school with her friends. Best of all, despite an intense physical fight with her mother and ending up with HIV and two kids from her father, the movie ends with its chin up. Precious has set a path for herself away from her abusive and deploring past, and because of the people who have helped her get to this point, we can have confidence that she will stay on it and succeed.

Final rating: 9/10

–James A. Janisse





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