By Carl Kozlowski
November 20, 2009
Some lives slip through the cracks, people who you might pass every day without giving a second thought. Precious is one of those people.
Vastly overweight and carrying her second child at the far-too-young age of 16, Precious is an African-American girl living in the Bronx who's stuck four years behind her age group in the seventh grade, with a mother who is verbally, emotionally and physically abusive toward her. Her father is only in the picture enough to come over and rape her, which led to her first child being born with Downs Syndrome, and Precious utterly unaware of proper prenatal care or even a delivery date for her second.
The only thing that brings her any sense of joy is her imagination, which Precious uses to block out horrific moments of the past and present with visions of herself on red carpets and other glamorous situations. But when a school official steps in and orders her to go to an alternative school for troubled young women, a concerned teacher, social worker and eventually a male post-natal nurse discover the extent of Precious' problems and help her take the drastic actions needed to save her life.
This may all sound like a vision from hell, but people like Precious exist all around us in modern society, where the welfare system and ingrained, multi-generational poverty and a negligent school system often perpetuate rather than solve their problems. But in the new movie Precious, this starkly realistic portrayal of one fictional life points audiences in the direction of true hope by showing that it only takes a few concerned people to save a life and turn it around toward productivity and pride.
Precious has been a sensation since its January debut at the Sundance Film Festival under its original title of Push, which in turn was based on a cult-hit novel by Sapphire that's been a sensation since its 1996 debut. The film is drawing extensive comparisons to the classic novel and movie The Color Purple, and not only due to its subject matter of African-American women learning to stand up for their dignity and self-worth—they also both feature what should be career-making performances from heretofore unknown or disregarded actresses.
The film stars the stunning, one-of-a-kind Gabourney Sidibe as Precious and longtime hack comic Mo'Nique as her monstrous mother with a tragic past of her own, in what are likely the odds-on favorite performances for next year's Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress Oscars. Yet the film also features a wonderful performance by Paula Patton as the teacher who breaks down Precious' walls by forcing her to learn how to compose her thoughts in a notebook, and surprisingly strong yet small turns by a de-glammed Mariah Carey as Precious' social worker and rocker Lenny Kravitz as the male nurse who is the first man ever to treat Precious with respect and friendship.
Director Lee Daniels is only making his second film here, following the barely released and critically derided Shadowboxer, but his command of incredibly difficult and dark subject matter is masterful. Following the lead of classic filmmakers who knew it's more effective to leave viewers filling in their own vision of horrific details rather than hammering them with graphic imagery, he shows the bare minimum footage necessary to get the idea of Precious' abuse across while emphasizing that hope, self-reliance and positive values are essential to overcoming any difficult life situation. And it's those positive vibes that drew Oprah Winfrey and filmmaking powerhouse Tyler Perry to attach their names to the film as “presenters,” in the hopes of drawing attention to this valuable enterprise.
If you can handle the depictions of abuse and frequent profanity (which declines as Precious learns to become more eloquent), Precious is an unforgettable experience that's not easily shaken.