I can’t really say that I enjoyed watching Precious. To do so would make me categorically misogynistic. Precious ( Based On The Book ‘Push’ by Sapphire) is a brutally punishing look into the life of an economically depressed 16 year old living in a ghetto with her insidiously evil mother. It is jarring, unflinching, and depressing. That is not to say that it is not a good movie, but don’t go expecting a joyful denouement to the story arc. Things are not wrapped up in a typical tidy Hollywood bow.
Precious is played by outstanding newcomer Gabourey Sidibe. She is an obese, dark-skinned, illiterate 16 year old pregnant with her second child. Her first child is mentally handicapped (Precious lovingly refers to her as Monglo) and is kept from Precious at a grandmother’s house. The only time Precious gets to see her child is when it is time for a social worker to visit the home.
The child is brought into the home so that the social worker will believe she lives there. This ensures that Mary, the mother of Precious, (played by Mo’Nique) gets her welfare check. As soon as the visits are concluded, Mary drops the toddler like unwanted garbage.
As if that weren’t bad enough, the two pregnancies are the product of her very own father, and his repeated raping of Precious. Mary resents the “attention” that her mate has given Precious, and acts out her hatred toward the girl every single day. Her seriously warped logic concludes that Precious brought the rape(s) upon herself, and caused her father to abandon the twisted family.
I’ve never seen or heard such vitriol from a parent in any movie. Faye Dunaway’s Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest is a regular teddy bear by comparison. Mary’s contempt for her own daughter borders on homicidal at times, and the scenes of abuse are scary and stomach-turning. Audible gasps were heard several times during the screening.
Director Lee Daniels uses an interesting story device to ratchet down the horror when it just seems to become unbearable. Precious simply escapes to an alternate reality, where she is beautiful, adored, draped in designer gowns, and sashays down a red carpet. The juxtaposition of these moments contrasts sharply with the grim reality of her current life. The fantasy sequences are colorful, bright, and playful, while her real life is dirty, ugly and stripped of joy.
In addition to the physical abuse, Precious must deal with daily mental abuse. Her mother constantly berates her for being worthless and stupid, and frequently mentions how sorry she was that she ever gave birth to Precious. The only sort of break that ever comes her way is when Precious is kicked out of regular school for being pregnant, and is told there may be an opening at an alternative school. She joins a group of misfit urban girls who are taught to read and write by the saintly Ms. Rain (Paula Patton). The odd group becomes a surrogate family of sorts to Precious, and when she goes into labor they take turns visiting her in the hospital.
A frumped up and unrecognizable Mariah Carey plays a social worker in charge of Precious. Lenny Kravitz plays a kindly male nurse who befriends Precious in the hospital. Paula Patton is really wonderful as the teacher and Sherri Shepherd plays a receptionist at the alternative school. However, the only stars in this movie are Gabourey and Mo’Nique. Both women deliver powerhouse acting performances. Mo’Nique is utterly convincing as an unstable and unpredictable time bomb, and Gabourey transcends mere acting. She is effortless, and will break your heart.
The movie had Tyler Perry and Oprah helping out as executive producers, but I am really curious to see how the African American community will react to the movie. There are still strained race relations in the United States, and this is not a flattering portrayal of an urban family, particularly Mary. She works the welfare system, watches television all day and smokes, and tells her daughter to drop out of school and apply for welfare, because it is easier. Is this offensive? I kind of think so.
Precious also looks in the mirror during one fantasy and sees a slender, fair-skinned blond. Obviously Precious wishes she were that girl, but is that going to ruffle some feathers? This movie is getting a lot of buzz, and this may be the only urban-centric film a lot of suburbanites see this year. It certainly reinforces some negative stereotypes, so I am curious to see how the public dialogue evolves regarding the movie.
Although it’s not fun to sit through, Precious should be seen for its edgy portrayal of poverty and abuse, and to experience a tour de force of acting from Mo’Nique and newcomer Gabourey Sidibe.