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Movie Review: Precious

 
Prinz Lee image

Prinz Lee wrote this review 5 years and 2 months ago

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Written 11/8/09

We’ve heard all about it during the past months and it’s finally here. I have to say as I break down my films month by month as you know, November has just started and this will take the cake already as best film this month. This is by far one of the most compelling films ever to display the art of not only acting and filmmaking, but layered flavor of dysfunctional lifestyles lived by millions. When I tell people how good this movie is — and I can't shut up about it — they flash me the eye of hate as in "Yeah, right, like I need to sink into a depression coma for two hours watching a fat, illiterate, HIV-positive Harlem girl get knocked up (twice) by her daddy, brutally battered by her mother and laughed at by a world eager to pound abuse on her 16-year-old ass."

Precious, saddled with a clumsy subtitle — Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire — tunnels inside your head, leaves you moved like no film in years and then lifts you up in ways you don't see coming. Despite the pain at the story's core, the movie has a spirit that soars. Claireece "Precious" Jones, played by Gabourey Sidibe, 24, in an astounding debut that shines pretty bright, digs aspiration out of buried dreams. I don't know how director Lee Daniels works his magic. But once Precious gets its hooks into you, no way is it letting go.

In adapting the 1996 novel by the poet Sapphire (of which I never read), a former teacher, Daniels and the gifted screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher don't skimp on the squalor. The year is 1987, and when the pregnant Precious isn't stealing fried chicken or ducking punches from Mary (Mo'Nique), the mom from hell, she's barely coping with ninth grade and caring for Little Mongo, her Down-syndrome child whom couch potato Mary tolerates only for the value of her welfare checks.

No wonder Precious has fantasies of walking red carpets and seeing herself as a skinny blond supermodel. Her real future is all dead ends until she is transferred to an alternative school. A teacher, Blu Rain (Paula Patton, with a spirit to match her loveliness), brings her up to speed on getting a GED and penetrates the blank expression the girl wears like armor. The school scenes dodge the dull virtues of TV formula. Ms. Rain's lesbianism keeps even her on the outside. And the receptionist (a feisty Sherri Shepherd) knows that it takes sweat to erect a comfort zone. The Precious support system consists of Nurse John (an excellent Lenny Kravitz) and Ms. Weiss (the de-glittered Mariah Carey is a revelation), a social worker who knows the roots of Precious' problems. That would be with Mary, a mother who hurls abuse and blunt instruments and then flops in front of the tube to gorge on pigs' feet and her own bile. The role could have been a caricature of cruelty, but Mo'Nique — a stand-up comic with real acting chops — refuses to play her the easy way. This monster has her reasons, shocking though they are. There is one word for Mo'Nique: dynamite. She tears up the screen and then, in a climactic scene with Precious and Ms. Weiss, tears at your heart. If Oscar has a sure thing this year, Mo'Nique has to be it.

Still, it's Precious who keeps pulling us in. Daniels — with the help of cinematographer Andrew Dunn, editor Joe Klotz and a knockout song by Mary J. Blige expressing the goal of Precious to see the world in color — makes sure of that. As the producer of Monster's Ball and The Woodsman and the director of the flawed but potent Shadowboxer, the openly gay Daniels knows what it's like to cut himself on barbed-wire topics. His fearlessness here is staggering. Daniels throws a lot at us, heedless of consistency, structure and tone. For that reason, Precious will be patronized as much as it is praised. Cynics typically rip anything that wears its heart on its sleeve. Sorry, haters, Precious is an emotional powerhouse, a triumph of bruising humor and bracing hope that deserves its place among the year's best films.

As for Precious, she will never be a stranger to hard knocks, and no longer will she be a stranger to herself. Look in Sidibe's eyes as she takes Precious to the next step. She's glorious. And the movie is with her every scary and sublime step of the way.

The sad reality of this gem of a film is that as I write this piece, somewhere out there there’s another Precious-like type of girl who’s totally lost and gone from any angle imaginable and it really hurts to know that not all are fully aware of how much they can fight back, redeem themselves and give society the finger by making something of themselves. It never leaves my mind how some people can cause so much emotional, mental and physical oppression among their own flesh and blood, but its not like civilization was meant for perfection anyway.

With that said, if there’s a film to sink your soul into, it’s this one. Hands down…

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