Key points in the movie Precious involve sexual abuse, rape, neglect, and being raised by a monstrous mother. While this film seems horrendously alarming to watch, moviegoers must remember it’s a work of fiction based on the novel Push by Sapphire. Director Lee Daniels found the perfect cast to bring attention to unspeakable acts that happen in our society every day. However, midway through the film I began to feel Sapphire’s episodic approach to storytelling was a bit much to believe.
Claireece Precious Jones (Gabourey ‘Gabby’ Sidibe), an obese and illiterate 16-year old girl born in Harlem, has lived in hell her entire life. Her father has continuously raped her, impregnating her at age 12, and now again at 16. Mongo (short for mongoloid) is lucky enough to be raised by Precious’ grandmother because other than wanting the child around when the welfare worker pays a visit, her mother Mary (Mo’Nique) thinks the girl is a monster. That’s hard to believe since Mary treats Precious like an indentured slave, constantly beating her, demanding she cook every meal and do everything necessary to exist while she watches TV. Mary even order Precious to pleasure her sexually since her abusive boyfriend is no longer around.
Sidibe is so phenomenal in her first feature film it’s impossible not to feel the heart tug of Precious’ silent torment every moment. Her mother’s mistreatment has brainwashed her into an emotionless body accepting her fate because she doesn’t know how to break the lock on her emotional confinement. Precious meanders through every day one step in front of the next steam roller ready to crush her physically, emotionally and spiritually. She barely speaks, has no friends, is hungry every day, and yet she’s been so abused she lacks even an once of self pity or a trace of embarrassment. Sidibe had her character down pat. “She’s sweet, but at the same time she’s learned to be defensive,” she said. “When there’s trouble coming, she’s ready for it. She’s a warrior, I think.”
When Precious gets kicked out of school and sent to the alternative school, Each One/Teach One, her life changes. There she meets other misfits who -- after harsh beginnings -- eventually find a common bond. But it’s the patient handling by her teacher Ms. Rain (Paula Patton) that helps Precious begin to overcome her past and believe she’s worthy of a fruitful life. Patton is terrific as the gentle guide who loves Precious and opens new doors for her.
Stripped of her glamour, Mariah Carey gives a surprising performance as a bare-bones social worker existing in a job where people become folders on her desk. Precious is the red light that brings both women to realize they are each more. I hope to see Carey in more feature film roles.
However, this movie belongs to Mo’Nique (Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins), the late-night talk show host and comedian who offers a tour de force performance as Mary. In every one of her scenes, she’s a tornado of hate. With one unimaginable fit of rage after another, Mo’Nique turns in an Oscar-potential performance.
While Precious does a great job bringing some of these true-life situations to the forefront, I was expecting to be more wowed by this movie, especially after all the hype. The film has garnered many festival awards already, but incredible performances aside, some elements of the movie lessen its impact. To escape her torment whether being ridiculed at school, raped by her father, or told she is HIV positive, Precious goes into an imaginary world where she’s a star on BET or a movie star on the red carpet. One of these scenes was enough for me to understand one way Precious coped with her situations. However, after the first pop-up scene, each one that followed pulled me away from the emotional impact of the film.
I believe Precious -- with its outstanding performances -- is a film worth seeing for those who can handle the subject matter. I like the way the movie opens a somewhat hopeful door. But to me, the rainbow ending comes across as a tad too conventional for everything that happens to Precious.
(Released by Lionsgate and rated “R” for child abuse including sexual assault, and pervasive language.)
Review also posted at www.reviewexpress.com.