Look out world–Precious has arrived.
Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ By Sapphire
Directed by Lee Daniels
Starring Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey
Anyone that has ever complained about the lack of good roles for actresses—especially black actresses—in Hollywood should make a point of buying a ticket for Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire. It’s the kind of film that’s rarely seen on the contemporary cinematic landscape: a serious, emotional drama about women with bigger problems than finding a date for Friday night or picking the right pair of Manolos to go with that little black dress. More than anything though, Precious is a remarkable showcase for its all-female ensemble cast, challenging them in ways most mainstream films can’t – or won’t.
Like the unwieldy title says, Precious is adapted from the 1996 novel by African-American poet Sapphire, which chronicles the life of Claireece “Precious” Jones (Gabourey Sidibe), an obese, illiterate teenager who relies on her overactive imagination to help her endure a hellish reality. Trapped in a dilapidated Harlem apartment with her emotionally and physically abusive mother (Mo’Nique), Precious grew up being repeatedly raped by her now-absent father. At 16, she’s already given birth to one of his children and has another on the way. After she’s expelled from public school, Precious enrolls in alternative education program and starts to turn her life around with the help of a no-nonsense teacher (Paula Patton) and a sympathetic social worker (Mariah Carey).
In the wrong hands, Precious could easily have turned mawkish and treacly, but director Lee Daniels avoids Lifetime movie-of-the-week sentimentality, producing an inspirational drama that’s genuinely inspiring. Much of the film’s power lies in the performances; Patton displays a steeliness we’ve never seen from her before and, in her screen debut, Sidibe brings an authenticity to the title role a more experienced actress wouldn’t be able to replicate. But it’s Mo’Nique’s ferocious turn that will really have audiences buzzing. In the film’s closing moments, she delivers a devastating monologue that is guaranteed to win her an Oscar. That one scene encapsulates the experience of watching Precious—it’s emotionally exhausting but also, exhilarating to watch these women work.
Verdict: See It