Best movie poster ever.
If you're going into Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire expecting sadness porn, as one review stated, you'll be disappointed. True, the issues portrayed in the film are shocking and devastating in nature—incest for starters—but amazingly, this adaptation by out director Lee Daniels has an indomitable, unextinguishable buoyancy that comes in handy for both the heroine and her audience.
Queen Latifah should have begged for this; it's a surefire Oscar and instant legendary role.
Claireece "Precious" Jones (Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe) is 16, morbidly obese and pregnant for the second time by her father, but nothing is a greater challenge than her day-to-day ghetto-unfabulous existence under the thumb of her outrageously abusive mother, Mary (Mo'Nique). Mary so resents her child for stealing her man that she flies into violent rages whenever she isn't ordering her daughter to wait on her, buy her cigarettes, play her numbers, lie to help keep welfare coming in or worse.
Life is short, but precious.
To get through all of this, Clarice daydreams in elaborate, intentionally cheesy sequences (that reminded me of My Own Private Idaho's talking porn covers)—Precious glad in red velvet at a movie premiere, bubbly and beloved by a tight, light-skinned boyfriend, Precious as the star singer in a glitzy gospel choir, even Precious and Mary in Two Women, the dialogue perhaps a bit too hilariously altered.
Dreams like this signal that Precious has an imagination—and a desire to better herself. In the nick of time, she's rescued by a concerned counselor (Nealla Gordon) who directs her to Each One Teach One, a school where she can get her GED (were girls really suspended from school for being pregnant in 1987? I didn't realize). There, Ms. Rain (a luminously pretty Paula Patton, pictured) inspires Precious and a hysterically funny batch of misfits (Stephanie Andujar, Chyna Layne, Amina Robinson, Xosha Roquemore and Angelic Zambrana, among others) to think for themselves and, more importantly, to express themselves through reading and writing. Ms. Rain helps to wash away the layers of self-loathing and resignation that had threatened to destroy Precious, and that will not leave without marking her for life.
Precious also has an ally, albeit a more passive, bureaucratically entrenched one, in Mrs. Weiss (Mariah Carey), a woman whose race she can't determine and whose sympathy is even harder to divine at first.
But no one can rescue Precious and her two children totally—she's got to do it herself.
I really hope the young actress didn't understand anything said in this scene.
There are parts of Precious that almost veer into caricature—Mary is the most extreme poster child for the "welfare mom" that conservatives detest that you'll ever encounter on film, Precious's child with Down Syndrome is literally named "Mongo" for mongoloid, she steals and eats an entire bucket of fried chicken and spends the movie dreaming of being white—but what saves it from that is the excellent direction of each performance; even bit players (Lenny Kravitz as a world-weary male nurse, an unrecognizable Sherri Shepherd as Cornrows, a blasé worker at the alternative school) shine because they always have just the right number of words to work with.
No butterflies or rainbows or unicorns in sight.
Mariah Carey is impressively made under for the part and executes a credible outer-boroughs accent. She's only in it for about 13 minutes and is even better in silence than when speaking, but has the great good fortune to be a participant in the film's most indelible scene. Also, when Precious bluntly confronts her about her racial identity, this plays interestingly with the public's perceptions of Carey in real life. Could she get an Oscar nomination? Entertainment Weekly says maybe. If she gets it, it would be a testament to goodwill toward the entire production; in truth, the main reason she sticks out isn't that she's worlds better than those around her, but that she, in real life a latter-day Jayne Mansfield in public, isn't worlds worse. If anything at all, more like this, please.
Her allies are a precious few.
Paula Patton has a much bigger part, and her character plays a bigger part in saving Precious, but her light touch and Hollywood beauty kept her from being as memorable as the others. Her performance has heart but no grit, and in this film, that makes her recede.
Her man showed her she's a monster, her daughter continually reminds her.
Mo'Nique deserves an Oscar, which is one reason she might not get it—it's so obvious, and we all know what happens to actors and films who peak early in awards season. (Ask Brokeback Mountain. Ask Sissy Spacek.) The other is that she's been quoted as being a bit dismissive of the potential award, and was reluctant to appear at any but the most important of the film's screenings without payment. (Oprah Winfrey—who gets an interesting and gay-related shout-out in the film—and Tyler Perry got behind Precious to ensure its release, so her assumption that there was plenty of cash to go around is as right as her demand for money is wrong-headed.) But I hope voters will overlook these things and realize that they're unlikely to find a better piece of supporting work. The movie simply would not be nearly as effective as it is without Mo'Nique's 100% invested, selfless contributions—she does not shy away from creating a monster who is as much an eyesore as she is a fountain of abuse, but whose unraveling, while never excusing her actions, explains them unforgettably.
Her favorite color is yellow and she's here because she no longer wants to be there.
Still, it would be a mistake to overlook Gabourey Sidibe in favor of the higher-profile names and Mo'Nique's more bombastic performance—her Precious is pitch-perfect, her face amazingly suggestive. She inhabits her role as deeply as Mo'Nique and brings to Precious a pluck that should not be there considering her situation but that the story demands; it's shocking to realize a producer once thought of Brandy for this part.
Lee Daniels should be recognized with an Oscar nomination as well. It's not that I think his film is flawless—it stops short of greatness for me because it has a slightly disjointed, episodic feel and Mary's final scene seemed, for me, to come out of nowhere. But his film is an emotional revelation and a surprisingly successful attempts to tell a story in a way that is both unflinching and yet three-dimensional. The theater erupted in laughter often, the music was frequently a toe-tapping transport away from the quagmire and several flourishes brought smiles as unexpectedly as the film's lowest moments expectedly brought tears.
Precious is just that; a totally American story of the failure of our society and of its individual characters as well as of the potential for success in spite of it all.
See Gabourey Sidibe's audition for Precious here.