Director: Lee Daniels
Screenwriter: Geoffrey Fletcher
Runtime: 110 mins.
Australian release date: 4 February 2010
It’s not surprising that Oprah Winfrey got behind the push for Lee Daniels' Precious, based on the 1996 novel Push by Sapphire. It is a raw and vivid portrait of a young, 16 year-old African American woman who had been subjected to a miserable life that is quite hard to digest. The film covers many issues including sexual abuse, the tyranny of the welfare system, the predominance of obesity in lower-income families and above all (and that’s not making light of the sexual abuse) the absolute loss of dignity that comes with being illiterate.
Precious Jones, hauntingly played by Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe, leaves no emotional rock left unturned. Her face says it all. She is about to have a second child. The father is her own father, who has been abusing her since she was a child. If that’s not enough to make you want to shut your eyes, then read on. Her first child suffers with Down Syndrome and lives with her grandmother. Meanwhile Precious remains at home with her mother, Mary, played by the award winning comedienne Mo’nique, who is the mother from hell. She sits and chain smokes, occasionally gets up and thumps her daughter and spews forth a constant stream of criticism referring to her ‘fat arse’ and the fact that ‘cause she is so fat, she makes the room feel small.’ There-in lies the irony, as Mary ain’t got no alibi either.
Then along comes Ms. Rain, played by Paula Patton, who runs a much needed literacy workshop where students like Precious can learn the gift of language and self-worth. She finds herself surrounded by like-minded people who are all battling the same demons. The characters in the classroom are witty, self deprecating and provide a glimmer of hope for the future.
Precious has her baby and on this occasion one feels there is a God in the guise of Nurse John, played by Lenny Kravitz, who looks after her in the hospital and also her welfare officer, Mrs. Weiss (a very believable Mariah Carey). In both cases the music performers work well on screen bringing naturalness to their roles which are in keeping with the reality of the story. There was much hullaballoo made by the likes of Oprah about Mariah’s performance on screen, sans makeup.
Precious survives and succeeds in achieving success in literacy and some semblance of happiness in her life. It is a far cry from the moment when we see her walking down the street wishing that either a piano, or a desk, would fall out of a window and put an end to her misery. There are moments in the film when we enter into her fantasy world and these scenes provide a moment of relief from the daily horror. This film is not a comfortable viewing experience. However, when Precious manages to push herself into a better existence you leave the cinema feeling that all is not lost. A nice sentimental touch is the dedication for ‘precious girls everywhere’ and the sad fact is that we know there are plenty.