Movie Review: Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire (2009)

Gabourey Sidibe in Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire

Photo: Lionsgate

For almost 90-percent of it’s runtime Precious is so bleak and downright desperate you wouldn’t need to explain yourself if you told me you didn’t want to see it. However, should you go against what your instincts are telling you, you will end up seeing an eternally hopeful film that is hands-down the best drama I have seen in 2009 so far. This isn’t an easy film to watch, and at times it made my stomach turn, but to somehow come through everything we bear witness to and walk away with some sense of “things are going to be better,” moved me beyond measure.

Starring as the title character is Gabourey Sidibe as she opens herself up to a well of emotion unlike any I have seen all year. Living in Harlem in 1987, Precious is 16-years-old and pregnant for the second time by her absent father. She’s incredibly overweight, illiterate, at times makes believe she is a blonde white girl and is forced to wait hand and foot on her welfare addicted and abusive mother played with devilish menace by comedian Mo’Nique as if she has been tackling dramatic roles all her life.

The news in Precious’s life rarely improves and will only get worse, and yet there is a shimmer of hope. The hope, however, doesn’t come out in favor of Precious, per se, as much as it comes as a result of those around her. By this I am talking about a particularly moving performance by Paula Patton (Deja Vu) playing Precious’s teacher Ms. Rain as well as an opinion altering performance by Mariah Carey as a social worker handling Precious’s case.

Both women care for Precious’s predicament as much as we do as audience members, but whereas most of us turn a blind eye in the face of such adversity, these two women stand up and do what is right. They do it out of sheer compassion and without thought of reciprocation, outside of the knowledge they did the right thing and lived up to their own sense of responsibility.

This is not to say Precious doesn’t play the game of stereotypes or cliched plot devices. As a matter of fact this film plays it to the hilt. We are talking about dealing with people that are overweight, poor, lesbian, lacking in self-esteem, have been raped and are under-age and pregnant. To top it off, the inclusion of a Down syndrome child may be just enough for naysayers to check out. It’s a lot for one film and the only reason it works is thanks to the cast that director Lee Daniels brought together to tell the story.

Sidibe as Precious gives the best performance I have seen all year. Knowing she is ten years older than her character and after seeing her in a pair of interviews recently I am all the more convinced she has the best female performance of the year to this point. Mo’Nique delivers a performance you would never in a million years expect, but Daniels saw something in her and he was spot on.

Mariah Carey will most likely never live down her attempt at acting stardom in Glitter, but her performance here is transformative and she never skips a beat. And Paula Patton breathes life, caring and compassion into Ms. Rain that projects itself throughout the film.

A lot of negative things have been written about Precious recently, some have been downright hateful and even judgmental of anyone that likes it. The phrase “poverty porn” has emanated from some circles and while I can understand where some of the more level-headed arguments come from, many of the other naysayers simply seem to be so unhappy and contrarian it’s not even worth the time to read any further into their statements.

For all the darkness seen in this film it’s astonishing the amount of light that is seen at the end, even though the unsettling nature of it all was still with me as the credits began to roll. Sidibe created a character so believable, she not only manages to earn the compassion of the characters in the film, but also those in the audience. It’s a truly masterful performance in a film I won’t soon forget.

GRADE: A

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