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USA 2009
Directed by
Lee Daniels
109 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
4.5 stars


Synopsis: Claireece “Precious” Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) is an obese, illiterate 16-year old who already has one child and is pregnant with her second, both as a result of ongoing rape by her father. Her mother Mary (Mo’nique) is also abusive, both verbally and physically, and blames Precious for having ‘stolen her man’. When she is encouraged to attend an alternative school, her new teacher, Ms Rain (Paula Patton), helps Precious towards the literacy she so badly needs for her self-expression and self-esteem.

The full title of Lee Daniels's film is Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire. Push is by a New York poet who writes about people whose lives have been blighted in some way or another. There is possibly no greater blight than that experienced by the lead character in this story. The scenes of Precious being abused are confronting and heart-breaking. I found myself physically recoiling it was so hard to watch and to believe that not only a father could be so brutal, but even a mother could be so full of vindictiveness and aggression towards their daughter. At Precious' first school she is derided and deemed to be 'stupid'. The contrast between all this and her next school is wonderful, and is effected without going into the usual clichéd area that is covered in many 'tough school' American movies.

The thing most people will no doubt observe about Precious first is her gargantuan weight. It's hard not to make assumptions and judgments of a person so blatantly different to socially-determined ideals.  But of course much of the film's message is about not making judgments; trying to see the inner beauty beneath a person's façade. Precious, with the help of her encouraging teacher and a social worker, Mrs Weiss (Mariah Carey), starts to slowly come to a sense of her own iinner strength..

Two elements make this film a stand-out. One is the director's care not to sensationalise any of the challenging material. He simply shows it how it is - tragic, and probably alarmingly widespread in certain strata of American society. But it is the performances of the main actresses that simply bowl us over. The fact that there are more than 40 awards nominations and wins by this film, many of them for the actresses, speaks for itself.

Gabourey Sidibe's debut performance is simply bewitching. We care so much about this poor girl. When Precious goes into her various fantasy scenarios as a coping mechanism (she's a movie star, a dancer, a gospel choir singer, the girlfriend of a handsome boy) our heart breaks seeing the simple 'normality' of a young girl's imagination.  Mo'nique, a stand-up comedian manages the monumental task of creating a smidge of empathy for an otherwise reprehensible character. Carey sheds her glam image to be a sympathetic social worker barely able to cope with the shocking truth she discovers, while Patton is awesome as Ms Rain, who passionately cares for her charges. Each of the small roles of Precious' classmates is also a delight, as is the character of John, a male nurse played by Lenny Kravitz. These characters all add some moments of odd humour which break up the intensity and personal drama. Precious is a splendid film that surely must make us think twice before we judge others.




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