I’ve seen quite a few films about the resilience of the human spirit, but few had me in tears thinking “Dear Lord, this has to get better, I don’t think I can take anymore.”
Based on the Novel by Sapphire, originally entitled Push, the story follows an overweight teen in Harlem, New York. Pregnant by her father and browbeaten by her mother, Clareece Precious Jones, played by newcomer Gabourey Sidibe, is looking for a way out. Instead she’s continually discouraged and molested by her mother, played by Mo’Nique, a mish-mash of ghetto mom and evil crypt-keeper, and summarily sent to a continuation school.
“We’ve all passed by a Precious in our lifetime,” says Sidibe, over the phone from the Toronto Film Festival. “I knew a similiar girl in high school and elementary school, so I tried to mirror my own prejudices in playing this character.”
While attending the alternative school, Precious finds her guide in a teacher named Ms. Blu Rain, played by Paula Patton, wife of R&B singer Robin Thicke.
“Blu Rain was scary to take on,” says Patton, with a brave smile. “I didnâ€™t know how to play the teacher, I didnâ€™t want to be boring or uptight. So, following Denzel Washington’s example on Deja Vu, I found this amazing teacher named Janet Jones at a last chance school in New York City. She told her kids the truth and was so loving in her heart but she also didnâ€™t take no bullshit. I was so inspired by her and once I got the whole details of her, I said I can do this.”
Rain guides Precious through her transformation into an increasing responsible adult, along with Lenny Kravitz, as John the hot maternity nurse who guides Precious through birth and early infant care, and Mariah Carey as her weathered social worker. There are only two substantial male characters, John and Precious’ shadowy sexually abusive stepfather.
“I love women and I understand them,” says Lee Daniels, director of Precious, along with Monster’s Ball that garnered Halle Berry an Oscar. “Once in a while the stars align for a film maker to make a film that they’re passionate about and this is that situation.”
While the film is a must-see for Mo’Nique’s performance alone, (I REALLY hated her character and I wanted to fight her during the screening) Precious is an exercise in worry. Will Precious be raped AGAIN? Will Precious get custody and know how to care for her first child, who is mentally disabled? Will Precious be able to cope with her health? Will Precious find a place to live? Will her mother kill the new baby out of jealousy? Will anyone save her? Cue feelings of hopelessness and dispair, except the movie doesn’t end with all of those questions answered and I honestly didn’t feel uplifted. Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry are co-producers on the film and this is typical Oprah, as my mother would say, painful and just rough, ie. Beloved and The Poisonwood Bible, both Oprah Winfrey book club books. Thankfully, Carey’s mustache was a bright spot because Daniels only allowed Sidibe to have make-up on set, that made me giggle. The pop star’s turn as a tired state employee totally makes up for Glitter.
Ultimately, I liken this film to 2000’s Requiem For a Dream, it’s great for the actors to grapple with such heart-wrenching material and earn their stripes -but seeing it once is enough to experience the appropriate amount of hurt and pain for art’s sake.
ps. fave line: “My favorite color is florescent beige” (c) Joann, one of Precious’ classmates. Ha!
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