I am beholden to various entities to keep my review content PG. But in the interests of journalistic integrity, I feel I should report that in my cramped notes I dropped, for my own train of thought record keeping, the F-bomb three times. Holy, Amazing, and just plain F-bomb. The usual tenor of my notes is more like “clips along but where is this going?” not audible jaw drops with no real descriptive use. My verbal effusions weren’t much more erudite.
Precious is a pregnant black teenager abused in all ways at home, struggling upstream in a system that rushes by her as if she is invisible. She knows she’s seen as part of the black grease that needs to be scrubbed out of the ghetto — she also knows that she is more than that, but no one will ever know it. She is trapped in so many ways. Between a school system that judges her for something they should be sheltering her from, and a home life that reduces her to less than a dishrag, Precious is being squeezed out of the world. This film (based on the novel Push, by Saffire, and based on real Bronx lives) shows us how the fire that has miraculously remained lit inside this girl finally purifies her.
Newcomer Gabourey Sidibe carries the literal and emotional weight of Precious as if it had always been her own. To see her as her bubbly self in interviews is almost more startling than her under-the-skin performance. When Precious is asked a question we the audience know the answer to, but to which she will not give, we can see her shell collapse just that much more behind her eyes. To the unaware she looks sullen; to us she looks beaten. The fact that she isn’t suicidal is already amazing, and the film continues to defy our expectations.
Her true horror of a mother is played with extraordinary fierceness by Mo’Nique. She is an unpredictable wild beast, her motives simple but her actions like wildfire. Mo’Nique is terrifying and raw and amazing. The pain just this woman alone could cause is incalculable; her collusion with Precious’ father’s abuses is incomprehensible, yet Mo’Nique doesn’t let us leave the theatre without understanding it. Scenes with Mo’Nique and Sidibe are — it’s been said before but there is no better word — harrowing and thrumming with tension.
Lest ye think Precious is just another “ghetto life be hard, yo” exploitation movie, it is not so, though it does play on our awareness that we tend to marginalize these kinds of characters into such stereotypes. Precious may always have greater problems than we can fathom, but the hope and future she does find is planets away from where we first find her. The subject matter is vital, the events rough, and the movie is astounding.
Sophomore director Lee Daniels doesn’t shy away from moments where our protagonists falter or our antagonists show a good side. He clearly ran a set where the actors felt safe to expose themselves, abandoning any sense of vanity or sanitizing. When things are at their worst, Precious’ fantasy world takes over to protect her and us. Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz seemed like they were stunt cast until I saw their solid and tender scenes. They justify their star presence by fading next to Sidibe’s. Carey in particular got me where I live during a key scene late in the film.
I almost gave this film the rating of Matinee With Snacks because it is so hard to say “you’ll love it!” to a movie such as this, but sometimes even I have to remember that Full Price Feature means that this movie gives you all of your admission’s worth and Precious surely does. So please reward Lionsgate for this brave, terrifying, beautiful story.
MPAA Rating R – child abuse, sexual assault, strong language
Release date 11/6/09
Time in minutes 109
Director Lee Daniels