If you were like me, reluctant to watch Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire (we’ll dispense with the full title from here on out) because of it’s hard core subject matter, I say to you, “watch this movie anyway.” Yes, it’s movie about a teenage girl who has been raped by her father repeatedly and birthed two children by him. Yes, that girl’s mother is one of the worst monsters you will witness in film. And yes, this poor girl seems to have the world coming down on her. But there is another side to Precious. There is the side of the film that is hopeful, full of life, love and dreams. Moreover, you should see this movie because Lee Daniels has directed one damn fine movie and it features a deservedly award winning performance by Monique, and a masterful performance by newcomer Gabourey Sidibe.
The film takes place in 1987. Precious (Sidibe) is a 16 year old girl growing up on welfare under the abusive thumb of her mother, Mary (Monique). Through tough, straightforward narration, Precious explains that her first child (one she calls “Mongo” after the slang term for Down’s Syndrome) is taken care of by her grandmother. Precious never sees the child except on days when a social worker comes to visit the apartment. As the film opens, we learn that the girl is pregnant with a second child by her father. You may think: Can things get any worse?
We learn that Precious survives her horrible existence by escaping the real world and going into her imagination. When we witness he about to get raped by her father, she focuses on the cracks in the ceiling and leaves the real world. When a bunch of punks punch her and knock her unconscious to the ground, she once again escapes. Precious imagines herself as a diva singer, a movie star actress and a fashion model, with a hunky boyfriend and all of life’s riches. The movie is already tough to watch and director Daniels made a wise, creative choice by cutting away from all of the bad shit; it makes us able to continue watching Precious’ journey. Her escapes from reality are her means for survival and Precious is a survivor. If only she could get out of living with her monster of a mother.
The opportunity to be saved arises when Precious joins an alternative school dedicated to helping teenage girls get their GED’s. She meets Miss Blu Rain (Paula Patton), a teacher trying to better the girls in Precious’ class. Miss Rain sees the potential in Precious. By believing in her (the first person in her life to do so) and helping her to learn to read and write, Miss Rain gives Precious the strength to carry on, to claim her life as her own, and to prove to herself that she is not “nothing,” as her mother tells her. Precious learns that she is worthy of love.
Precious is full of stellar performances. Monique walked away with nearly every supporting actress award this year, rightfully so. Sidibe is quite powerful and it is startling to learn that this was her first film. She carries it with the ease of an old pro. Equal praise should be reaped upon Patton for providing the ray of hope and the strength in Rain’s character. Additionally, musicians Lenny Kravitz and Mariah Carey both give good performances. Carey, in particular, almost unrecognizable as a welfare worker, sans makeup and glamour, does a surprisingly moving job of acting.
Geoffrey Fletcher’s Academy Award winning adaptation of Sapphire’s novel is a sturdy piece of writing. Having read parts of the book, I know that the screenwriter had his work cut out for him. He had to construct a film narrative out of a book that is written in stream of consciousness and poetry.
Ultimately, this is Daniel’s work of art. The director had a vision and he guided his entire troupe of actors to great heights, while crafting a visually stunning movie that could have been a real downer. Yet, despite everything that happens to this girl, Daniels instills a sense of hope and perseverance that lifts the film up.
As I said, Precious isn’t easy viewing; the subject matter is difficult and the performances may leave you raw. But Precious is definitely required viewing for anyone who loves great storytelling and top-notch filmmaking.
The DVD comes with many fine bonus features, including wonderful commentary by Daniels. There are several featurettes that detail the genesis of the film project, from Daniels’ dogged pursuit to getting the rights, to his personal reason for wanting to make the film so badly. We hear from Sapphire with her thoughts of the movie, and there is a candid conversation between Daniels and Sapphire that is excellent. In addition, you hear from Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, who both “presented” the film, helping it reach a broader audience, and you get to see the audition of Gabourey Sidibe that stunned Daniels and company and helped her win the role.
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