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Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
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by Mel Valentin

"Compelling and frustrating in equal measure."
4 stars

"Precious" has taken a long, circuitous route to reach mainstream audiences. Directed by Lee Daniels ("Shadowboxer") from Sapphire’s 1996 novel, "Push" (the title was changed form "Push" to avoid confusion with the sci-fi/actioner released earlier this year), "Precious" debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January where it won the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize for best drama, as well as a Special Jury Prize for supporting actress Mo'Nique. Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry quickly signed on as executive producers. "Precious" also won the People’s Choice Award (audience award) at the recent Toronto International Film Festival. It’s easy to see why audiences have responded so favorably to "Precious." It’s gritty, urban setting, Job-like protagonist, thought-provoking subtext, and powerful performances all make it worthwhile, but it also raises as many (if not more) questions than it answers about the subject matter.

Set in 1987, Precious centers on Clarisse "Precious" Jones (Gabourey 'Gabby' Sidibe), a 16-year old, obese, African-American teenager and the seemingly insurmountable problems she faces as a sixteen-year old teenager pregnant with her second child, both by her father (seen only dimly lit flashbacks). Precious’ Down Syndrome-afflicted daughter lives with her grandmother. Precious and her lives mother, Mary (Mo'Nique), live in Section 8 housing in Harlem. Mary verbally and physically abuses Precious, using Precious’ physical appearance to bludgeon Precious into submission. A textbook example of the “monstrous mother,” Mary has turned her self-hatred, bitterness toward her own, dead-end life into violence against Precious.

Precious follows a familiar formula for urban dramas: the progressive, compassionate, high school teacher who genuinely wants to teach, who genuinely wants to give his or her students a chance to improve their lives (or just survive). After Precious’ second pregnancy becomes apparent, the principal, Mrs. Lichtenstein (Nealla Gordon), sends Precious to an alternative high school where Precious has a better chance of developing basic literacy skills (in effect, a pre-GED school). Her new teacher, Ms. Rain (Paula Patton), quickly becomes a surrogate mother. Her new classmates, a mix of African-Americans, Latinas (and a Jamaican), become her surrogate family. She also finds support from a compassionate caseworker, Mrs. Weiss (Mariah Carey, almost unrecognizable). Precious’ path to self-realization and independence, however, may be more than her surrogate family can handle.

Daniels and his screenwriter, Geoffrey Fletcher, have been criticized for heaping plausibility-stretching indignities on the Job-like Precious. She suffers not for her own sins, but of the people around her. Not only is she poor, obese, and illiterate, she’s raped repeatedly by her father, becomes pregnant twice, is physically and verbally abused by her mother, a woman seemingly incapable of compassion or generosity, but just as her life shows signs of turning around, if only marginally, Daniels and Fletcher (presumably working from Sapphire’s novel), throw in a third-act twist that can be only described as gratuitous. It’s one more plea for sympathy and understanding (and barring that, pity), where none was needed. If that’s not (to borrow a phrase to describe early ‘60s British cinema) “kitchen sink realism,” it’s hard to know what is.

On its own, noble sentiment, no matter how skillfully (or how obviously) it's been conveyed by a filmmaker doesn't make for engrossing or compelling entertainment (let alone art). Precious is engrossing or compelling for the often loud subtext introduced early on in Precious' fantasy life: her banal dreams of wealth and success, of becoming loved as only celebrities can (widely, if shallowly). Dig a little deeper and Precious' self-hatred, racism internalized, peeks through her fantasy tangents. In one sequence, the dark-skinned Precious sees another woman in the mirror: a white woman. In others, light-skinned men romance her. Treated inhumanely by her parents, ignored at school (before she transfers), it’s not surprising that Precious sees her dark skin as valueless.

But even as Daniels elevates Precious and her dreams of normality to the center of the film, he reveals, perhaps inadvertently, his own preferences for light-skinned African Americans. Precious’ savior is a light-skinned African-American woman. Her classmates are either Latinas or light-skinned African-American girls. Mrs. Weiss is of indeterminate ethnicity. Precious befriends a light-skinned African-American nurse, John (Lenny Kravitz), in the hospital when she has her second child. He shows her more kindness, more gentleness than anyone else in the film. Precious’ father, seen only in underlit flashbacks, is dark-skinned.

That says nothing, of course, about the uniformly excellent performances, especially by Mo'Nique, who manages to avoid the caricature Mary easily could have become. She gives glimpses of Mary’s humanity, twisted by a lifetime of disappointment and rejection, are rare moments, just to remind moviegoers that, despite Mary’s monstrous behavior, she’s still a human being. Daniels and Fletcher give Mo'Nique a deeply felt monologue, one that summarizes both their ambitions for "Precious" (i.e., a film about more than African-American poverty and victimhood) and gives Mo'Nique the chance to show her range as Mary flits from one emotion to another, from one ill-judged justification to another, until finally, exhausted, she shrinks in defeat. It’s also to Daniels credit that he ends "Precious" realistically, his heroine more self-aware, but still facing potentially insurmountable challenges.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=18174&reviewer=402
originally posted: 11/13/09 09:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2009 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Festival de Cannes For more in the 2009 Festival de Cannes series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 New York Film Festival For more in the 2009 New York Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2009 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Austin Film Festival For more in the 2009 Austin Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Starz Denver Film Festival For more in the 2009 Starz Denver Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/24/18 morris campbell raw & real with the worst movie mother EVER 4 stars
6/21/15 David Hollingsworth Depressing, grim, but brilliant film 5 stars
11/16/11 Jeff Wilder Harrowing as hell yet uplifting. The best movie of 2009 hands down. 5 stars
12/24/10 mr.mike It deserved the accolades. 4 stars
10/28/10 Ionicera great character piece 4 stars
10/24/10 millersxing dreams of being a mover and a shaker crumble like the earth beneath her feet 4 stars
5/15/10 Helen Bradley Not a pleasant film to watch, but portrays real life 5 stars
5/12/10 Ann Kerr Very raw but excellent performances by the cast. It is a hard film to watch 4 stars
4/11/10 Purple* Excellent Film! 5 stars
3/28/10 Danny Was expecting a bit more; did not quite live up to the hype. 3 stars
3/28/10 zora Pure power! Beautiful! 5 stars
3/14/10 Bobo was looking forward to it, but it was too depressing. meh. 3 stars
2/05/10 nilesh life in darkness of uncivillize socity unleashed 4 stars
1/20/10 Stanley Thai Harrowing, grim, and optimistic, PRECIOUS is a powerful fillm. 5 stars
1/08/10 John The bits and pieces were good. Putting them all together leads to a story without an ending 3 stars
12/25/09 petro life sucks at times that should not be glorified ps the writer is a dyke perv 1 stars
12/21/09 Sean Was hoping for more fight scenes with the mom...! And learning ABC's in Jr. High? Come on.. 1 stars
12/20/09 buy lipitor 87ehrf It is pivotal to change your physician about any allergies you may have and also your medic 5 stars
12/18/09 Flounder A very well made film that is a bit too heavy-handed for my taste 4 stars
12/17/09 Toni Perhaps in your world these people don't exist. 5 stars
12/17/09 Iak A movie that shows all negative black stereotypes it what it takes to get attention. Sad. 1 stars
12/13/09 Jeff Wilder The film of 2009 5 stars
12/08/09 steve this is the worst kind of misery porn.thanks for not following the hack lemming critics 1 stars
12/07/09 Maia Yep, if you're determined not to believe in child abuse, you sure will hate it. 5 stars
12/06/09 l too much hatred. 1 stars
12/02/09 David In total agreement. 2 stars
11/29/09 Mel Couldn't have said it better. There was nothing powerful or uplifting about this movie. 2 stars
11/27/09 dan Film snob has to hate everything that appeals to a majority. Sad. 5 stars
11/26/09 heather had high hopes for this film, but alas, was disappointed, felt far too pretentious, unreal 3 stars
11/25/09 DMT Dealing w/ hard issues is a GOOD thing. Loved it. 5 stars
11/24/09 Missy Justanotherstupidblog@yahoo.com 5 stars
11/23/09 Tadeusz Spot on. It's a grotesque, hateful film. 1 stars
11/22/09 Frannie Boy do you need a hug! Phenomenal at each turn of he movie. 5 stars
11/20/09 Bungi How do you know whats over the top? You never seen a project hallway...Lol at this critique 5 stars
11/19/09 BoyInTheDesignerBubble Why must Oprah always promote abuse stories? Not all families are this sad. 3 stars
11/18/09 joy All I have to say is AMEN!!!! 5 stars
11/17/09 Dave I've never read a review move on the spot than this one. 5 stars
11/16/09 kimmi blech sheer crapfest of melancholy junk 2 stars
11/15/09 Leslie Morbid voyerism, with Hollywood gloss...Peter's review hits it on the nail. 2 stars
11/13/09 Abby Using lighter skinned rescuers is vital in highlighting Precious' self & life perceptions. 5 stars
11/11/09 Christy I was so disappointed! I want so badly to love it, but it just didn't do it for me. 3 stars
11/08/09 Ebonee noticed thelightskinned dynamic, but otherwise the movie was amazing... 5 stars
11/08/09 Ken You probably need to see this movie first then make a decision 5 stars
11/08/09 Kos You must have made up your mind before you saw the movie. 5 stars
11/07/09 Luis I've never read/seen a review more wrong than this one. You're just off at every critique. 5 stars
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  06-Nov-2009 (R)
  DVD: 09-Mar-2010


  DVD: 09-Mar-2010

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