REVIEW: Precious

17 11 2009

Precious” joins a very selective group of movies that is able to sear its impact into your memory with a flaming hot brand, leaving a mark that will burn for a while and stay forever.  It will undoubtedly reign as this year’s most emotionally charged movie, packed with some of the most profoundly affecting scenes ever committed to celluloid.  The movie portrays the devastating heartbreak of Precious’ life with unflinching reality, but what I found equally remarkable in Lee Daniels’ movie is how glimmers of hope manage to shine through in even the darkest of situations.

Claireece “Precious” Jones (newcomer Gabourey Sidibe) leads the life that we imagine when we think, “Well, at least I don’t have it as bad as this person.”  She lives in poverty.  She is illiterate.  She is obese.  She is pregnant for the second time by way of her biological father.  She has an careless, lazy, and abusive mother (Mo’Nique in a performance that will make your jaw drop).  Worst of all, she thinks no one cares for her.  But despite her situation, she still dreams of a life where she can dance on BET and have a light-skinned boyfriend.  In these moments of reverie, Precious’ face lights up like a Christmas tree, and it is so heartbreaking for the audience to watch because we know that she will soon have to wake up and face the world which she can greet only with a sullen frown. Despite all the bleakness of her situation, she manages to stay somewhat optimistic, seeing the person who she wants to see when she looks in the mirror.  With some help from a compassionate teacher (Paula Patton) at her new alternative school and a social worker willing to go the extra mile (a very de-glammed Mariah Carey), Precious soon gains the courage not only to face her fears but to find a way to triumph over them.

Gabourey Sidibe and Mo'nique in Precious

Discussion of “Precious” has to begin with the two astonishing, and quite surprising, performances that buoy the film.  Gabourey Sidibe commands the screen with the presence of a veteran in just her first time on screen.  She makes us feel great concern about her character from the instant we see her trudging through her school.  As Precious gains confidence, our concern develops into genuine care and affection.  Such is the mark of a truly great performance.  On the other hand, Mo’Nique delivers a performance that is absolutely harrowing.  Unfortunately, the monster she creates is all to familiar to the actress, who was molested by a family member while she was young.  Not to belittle the actress’ other works, but it is truly shocking to see the actress who from making a widely panned comedy like “Phat Girlz” to creating Mary, a character that we can truly abhor.  However, her virtuoso acting in the climactic final scene keeps us from being able to truly loathe and detest her.

The movie gains a quiet strength from the two women who aid Precious along her journey.  Mariah Carey’s social worker, Mrs. Weiss, brings a tender compassion into scenes that confront the harsh reality of Precious’ situation.  She remains firm and to some degree, gently stolid, making her shed tears all the more stirring.  But the unsung hero of “Precious” is Paula Patton as the teacher who is Precious’ biggest advocate, Ms. Blu Rain.  She believes in the power that each person has inside of them and empowers her students to access it.  Precious is especially resistant to accept this, and Ms. Rain is willing to go the extra mile to convince her not only that she has the capacity to change her situation but that she has people that are willing to help her accomplish it.

The direction of Lee Daniels is impressive but hardly immaculate.  Showing the rapture of Precious’ dreams enhanced the overall effect of the movie by creating a stark contrast with the world she has to inhabit, but Daniels cut to these sequences with too great a frequency.  In addition, he uses special effects to remind us that we were entering her fantasy, which really aren’t necessary because it’s pretty obvious when he’s cutting away from the dark, gritty conditions in Precious’ life.  Daniels did, however, make a wise move to back down from graphically depicting the film’s most brutal moments.  In fact, the abstract construction he utilizes in these scenes results in something much more chilling.

From what I had read about “Precious” before seeing it, I had prepared myself for something that would hit at a “Schindler’s List” level.  But this is not a relentless emotional assault on the psyche.  Although you will gasp, scream, and maybe even cry, you will also laugh, grin, and be incredibly moved in a much more sanguine way than I had expected.  In fact, I honestly wonder why “Slumdog Millionaire” is labeled “a buoyant hymn to life” (Richard Corliss) while some said that you need to get into a certain emotional state to watch “Precious” because it is “somewhat akin to having a piano dropped on your head” (Liam Lacey).  Both document one person with an iron will that is willing to fight against unimaginable poverty and seemingly insurmountable obstacles.  I would easily compare the gut-wrenching reaction to the eye gouging scene in “Slumdog” to the brawls in “Precious.” Although Precious doesn’t walk into the Mumbai sunset with a million dollars, she definitely triumphs in her own way.  And even though it is a fairly small victory for her, it will suffuse you with an exuberant feeling of hope that reminds you of the true power of a glorious and triumphant film.  A- / 3halfstars



5 responses

19 11 2009

Beautifully written Marshall. I’m glad you decided to review this movie.

20 11 2009
Aiden R

Great review, man. What a freakin’ powerhouse this movie was. Liked that it had a really good sense of humor to balance it out here and there, too. Easily one of the year’s best so far. Life isn’t so bad after seeing Precious, is it?

20 11 2009

My goodness this movie was good. My mother saw the movie opening day. I was jealous. I saw it the next day. I laughed, I cried, I yelled at the screen (which I don’t normally do) and I felt more compassion to disadvantaged people.

21 11 2009
Danny K.

You’re right on here in terms of describing the film’s emotional impact. No other film this year can even scratch the surface of the level of emotional power that Precious possesses. Mo’Nique and Sidibe should both walk away with Oscars in my opinion.

27 11 2009

As much as I loved Mary & Max and The Hurt Locker, I can’t see how this won’t be my #1 Film of the Year. As far as the Oscars, this one needs to sweep it. Forget Avatar, The Lovely Bones, or anything else coming out during “Oscar Season.” Nothing’s going to hit me in the gut like Precious did. Great review. I like you site.

El Gringo

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