Review: Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire (2009)
Lee Daniels's Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire is a lively, colorful, richly textured, inspiring, melancholy, unflinching portrait of the abuse and neglect of a young girl, Clarice Precious Jones, in 1985 Harlem. With no whiz-bang effects or movie stars, it's a searing and soaring roller-coaster ride of emotions with no--zero--sour notes.
Oscar talk is already swirling for Mo'Nique, the actress known for comedic roles who here takes on one of the most unsympathetic parts in film history with chutzpah and incredible commitment. That kind of notice and praise is well-justified.
And yet, the real face of the picture is the face of Precious, the face of actress Gabourey Sidibe as a young teenager struggling with illiteracy, loneliness, abuse and her second pregnancy. Sidibe's face is beautiful, sculptural and expressive. If it's not the face of your typical movie heroine, why not? There should be as much or more Oscar buzz for Sidibe's fine work as for Mo'Nique's. If there's ever been a stronger film debut in a leading role, I couldn't name it.
Precious is thrown out of her high school for being pregnant for the second time, but offered a chance to enroll in an alternative high school program in Harlem. Paula Patton is wonderful as Ms. Rain, a wise and caring teacher who goes out of her way.
As Precious's case runs through the system, we also encounter Mariah Carey, who is also excellent as Mrs. Weiss, the social worker assigned to it. Many of the most effective scenes between Precious and her mother are prompted by Mrs. Weiss's blunt and serious demeanor. Lenny Kravitz as Nurse John, who advises Precious during her delivery and recovery, is quite good in his fewer scenes as well.
The film uses fantasy sequences, sometimes spilling over into Precious's real life, to provide a glimpse into Precious's mind, how she sees the world and her place within it. This easily could have been disastrous handled incorrectly, but each sequence has its purpose and feeling and intent and fits right into the main tale.
One really feels like the film gets inside the souls of some tortured, complex characters, and what is seen there is beautiful, terrible and amazing.
Most amazing about Precious is not that it is based on a true story (it isn't, but might as well be), or that it deals with hard issues without a sledgehammer, though it's great that it does, but just to watch the journey Precious takes, what she makes of it. It's like the film stays out of her way.
If you're not looking for something "heavy" or deep, don't spend your time on this movie. The emotional lows are low, the human behavior portrayed often quite depressing--but the emotional lifts are also quite uplifting, without being saccharine or over-the-top, and much of the human behavior portrayed is quite realistic, dramatic and fulfilling. If you do skip it, it'll be your loss. It's one of the very best films of 2009.
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