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Precious: Based on the Novel ‘PUSH’ by Sapphire (Review)

Precious: Based on the Novel ‘PUSH’ by Sapphire (Review)

An unlikely source of inspiration.
Jan 31, 2010
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Genre: Drama Release Date: 04/02/2010 Runtime: 109 minutes Country: USA


Director:  Lee Daniels Writer(s): 
Geoffrey Fletcher


Cast: Gabourey Sidibe, Lenny Kravitz, Mariah Carey, Mo'Nique, , Sherri Shepherd
Precious: Based on the Novel 'PUSH' by Sapphire (Review), reviewed by Anders Wotzke on 2010-01-31T22:13:42+00:00 rating 4.0 out of5

“The other day I cried”, mumbles Claireece “Precious” Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) to the audience.

Fair enough, too. Precious is a morbidly obese, illiterate and pregnant African-American teen living in 1987 Harlem, surviving off the welfare collected by her disgustingly abusive mother. On occasion, her drug-addicted father drops in to rape her.  He is also the father of both her children, the first of whom has Down Syndrome. If there were a checklist of all the issues a teenager could possibly have, it’s safe to say poor Precious would tick each and every box.

“But guess what…” snaps Precious in response to her earlier sentiment. “F*** that other day. That’s why God or whoever make new days.”

It’s this remarkably optimistic attitude present throughout Lee Daniels’ second feature (the first being 2005s Shadowboxer) that turns an otherwise bleak and traumatic take on the human condition  into a surprisingly uplifting drama. No matter what unimaginable hurdles Precious must face, hope for her is never lost.

But that’s not to say it doesn’t seriously dwindle. The uncompromising and unstructured nature of the story, which is based on the novel ‘Push’ by African-American poet/author Sapphire, does tend to make the 110 minute runtime feel much longer. It’s  perhaps a sign that Daniels has done too good a job at placing us in Precious’s torturous shoes, forcing us  to feel her every blow — the ridicule, the abuse, the loneliness — almost to the point where we, like Precious, long for an escape.

And escape we do. When reality becomes to tough to bare for the Harlem teen, we’re swept away to her “happy place”. Once there, cinematographer Andrew Dunn shifts from gritty hand-held to intentionally embellished glamour shots as Precious imagines herself as an adored celebrity, dancing alongside her gorgeous rocker boyfriend in front of a sea of camera flashes.  It’s one of few times newcomer Gabourey Sidibe — who impassively drifts through the movie as if desensitised to her character’s own deprivation — ever sports a smile. And it’s a beautiful sight.

2009 precious based on the novel push by sapphire 0011 e1264939676557 264x280 Precious: Based on the Novel PUSH by Sapphire (Review)

Bringing Precious back down to Earth is her god-awful mother Mary (Mo’Nique), who only keeps her daughter around so she can continue receiving welfare checks and make her dinner. Powered by Mo’Nique’s vigorously vocal performance, Mary is nothing less than the spawn of the devil, hurling abuse at Precious with her every hateful breath. It’s not until a climactic scene set within the office of counselor Mrs. Weiss (Mariah Carey) that we see another side to Mary’s character, one that suggests she might actually have a soul after all. It’s a shame that it takes so long for this development to occur as Mo’Nique is truly brilliant at manipulating our emotions during this powerful scene – forcing us to ask whether she is genuinely remorseful, or just putting on a show – that you wish her character had a similar dynamic throughout the first two acts.

Hope for Precious comes in the form of special-ed teacher Ms. Rain (Paula Patton) who helps teach her how to read and write. Angelic in demeanour and appearance, Ms. Rain arrives like a walking cliché, embodying the role of the inspirational teacher we’ve seen many times before in films like Lean on Me and Dead Poets Society. It’s lucky, then, that Patton’s performance bears great sincerity and grace, bringing her character back into the realms of plausibility while still providing the film a warm ray of light.

Arriving in the wake of the awfully mawkish inspirational sport biopic Invictus and the overbearingly bleak post-apocalyptic drama The Road, Precious succeeds because it strikes a balance between the two emotional extremes. Oh yes, there will be tears, so bring the Kleenex. But there will also be smiles, as this stirring film suggests there’s still hope for us yet.

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