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Flicks - Precious
Precious 10/01/21 3:07
Flicks - Precious
Precious is that rare case where substance trumps style. Style isn't everything, which might sound odd coming from a film snob. But since so many films match their lack of content with a mediocre style, I don't have much occasion to say it. Today, in the case of a film called Precious, I'm glad to have the opportunity.
Precious, based on a book called Push by the poet Sapphire, tells of a 16-year-old black teenage girl in Harlem named Clareece Jones, nicknamed "Precious." Precious, who weighs 300 pounds, was raped by her father with whom she had a Down syndrome child, and lives with her extremely abusive mother who smokes and watches TV all day while expecting her daughter to cook and clean for her. Taunted by boys for being overweight, Precious has no friends, and only escapes her misery through elaborate fantasies of being a music star adored by fans and handsome young men. One scene has her looking in a mirror and imagining a beautiful blonde white girl looking back, society's impossible image of attractiveness.
As the story opens she is kicked out of school for being pregnant again—she was incested once more by her father. So she finds her way to an alternative G.E.D. school where she meets other struggling young women and a compassionate teacher.
The director, Lee Daniels, has a style that is sometimes overwrought, other times too obvious in its manipulations. Other flaws include the too movie-star-beautiful to believe teacher, and the fellow students' stereotyped personalities. And yet, and yet…the movie works anyway. There are two big reasons why: Number one: Daniels and his screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher are not afraid to face disturbing truths. They don't sugarcoat Precious's reality, but let us experience the personal nightmare from her point of view, and in doing so they honor a character who is far more authentic than the heroes and heroines we usually see in the movies. Number two: The acting by the principals is first-rate. Precious is played by a newcomer named Gabourey Sidibe, and she is completely believable in action and narration, with a wide range of feelings, and especially embodying her character's weary self-hating resignation with great skill. Even better is Mo'Nique, who plays Precious's mother. She's been known up till now as a pretty good actor, mostly in television comedies, but here she just socks you between the eyes, turning what could have been just a villain role into a complex, shattering portrait of wounded self-centeredness. Her final scene in the film is a little masterpiece, a display of raw emotional power you don't often witness on the screen. Also good is Mariah Carey, low-key and non-glamorous as a social worker, and Paula Patton as the teacher Ms. Rain.
Precious is a serious woman-centered drama, uncompromising in its support of its central character, courageous in subject matter, and thought-provoking without losing its almost visceral power. This is that rare case where substance completely trumps style, and a commitment to truth at all costs makes us sit up and pay attention.