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Worth A Look: 31.25%
Just Average: 9.38%
Pretty Crappy: 6.25%
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3 reviews, 46 user ratings

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Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Tons Of Not-Much-Fun"
1 stars

Ever since it premiered last winter at the Sundance Film festival, “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” (heretofore referred to in this review as “Precious”) has been hailed by virtually everyone who has encountered it as a powerful, harrowing and emotionally devastating piece of filmmaking and for the life of me, I cannot begin to understand why. It is not that I think that it is overrated and that it is receiving more praise than it may actually deserve. No, it is because to these eyes, the film is a hackneyed, overwrought and badly made exercise in hysterical (in every sense of the word) melodrama that goes so overboard with its depiction of the squalor and cruelty that its heroine endures on a daily basis that it begins to resemble one of those demented and depraved satires that John Waters used to specialize in back in the days before “Hairspray” made him respectable. The only difference, of course, is that in the Waters films, audiences were meant to laugh at the lurid excesses faced by his characters while “Precious” asks us to take everything it has to offer in a more-or-less serious manner. This is a bit of a problem since the movie as a whole is so condescending and badly made that it comes across as more laughable at times than most recent comedies.

For those of you who have been out of the loop for the last few months, “Precious” tells the story of Precious (newcomer Gabourey Sidibe), a 16-year-old girl from the streets of Harlem circa 1987 living the kind of hellish existence that plays like a combination of the worst excesses of the collected works of Charles Dickens, Toni Morrison and Tyler Perry with a year’s worth of Oprah shows tossed into the mix for good measure. In no particular order, she is pregnant with her second child, both of whom were fathered by her otherwise absent father (the first also suffers from Down’s Syndrome), regularly abused--emotionally and physically--by her unbelievably vile mother (Mo’nique), almost completely illiterate and so completely lacking in self-esteem that when she looks into a mirror, she sees only the slender blonde girl that she wishes herself to be (via a string of fantasy sequences) rather than the hefty African-American that she actually is. Just when it appears that all is lost or her, Precious’ life begins to change when she is admitted into a special school that allows girls in her situation to study for their GED’s and with the help of such nurturing influences as her understanding teacher (Paula Patton), a laid-back male nurse (Lenny Kravitz) and an overwhelmed social worker (a dowdy Mariah Carey), she begins to gain the strength and self-confidence that she will need to break free of the cycle of abuse that she is trapped in so that she and her children can live a better life than the one they seem destined to endure.

In other words, “Precious” would seem to have all the ingredients for a harrowing/uplifting drama documenting the triumph of the human spirit over seemingly unconquerable adversity. The problem is that director Lee Daniels approaches the material in ways that are so at odds with the story that he is trying to tell that the entire thing begins to resemble an especially awkward tug-of-war that no one emerges from victorious. For example, we are supposed to see Precious as someone whose worldview has been stunted by her surroundings until her eyes are gradually opened and she is finally allowed to develop as a person. How then to explain such moments as her having an elaborate dream vision in which she and her mother are the characters in the classic Italian neorealist drama “Two Women” or observing that a couple of characters engaging in intellectual banter “talk like TV channels that I don’t watch” as anything other than pointless indulgences of Daniels and screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher that only serve to alienate us from the drama at hand. Likewise, the scenes of cruelty and nastiness--which also include Precious plummeting down a flight of stairs while holding her newborn baby, barely avoid being hit by a TV set thrown by her mother and stealing and eating an entire bucket of fried chicken--are presented in such a grossly lurid and overblown manner that viewers will be more horrified by the depiction of these actions than in the actions themselves. Making matters worse is that Daniels spends so much time depicting the hideous existence of Precious that he barely has any time or evident inclination to explore how she manages to pull herself from the abyss. Assuming that Daniels is not actually making a film skewering other condescending paeans to white liberal guilt like “Monster’s Ball” (which he produced) or “Crash” by spoofing their lurid excesses, I can only guess that he is presenting the horrible particulars of Precious’ life in such an overblown and near-cartoonish manner because he is trying to make some kind of dramatic point. Unfortunately, since he never quite manages to get around to revealing what that point might be, it just comes across as naked exploitation of human misery designed to allow more privileged and affluent viewers to reconfirm their views on how “those” people live while showing that they truly care about how the other half lives, at least for as long as it takes to unspool.

The one aspect of “Precious” that does work to a certain degree is the contribution from Gabourey Sidibe in the central role--she manages to bust through the clichés and the self-conscious tawdriness surrounding her and comes through with a performance that is strong and sure and true throughout. The only problem with her work is that she does such a good job of cutting to the heart of the matter that she makes the performances from her co-stars seem all the more fake and hollow by comparison. As the teacher who somehow inspires Precious despite not really doing much of anything to do so, Paula Patton is about as believable as an educator dealing with troubled teens as Milla Jovovich is as a psychologist in “The Fourth Kind”--you never for an instant buy her as the kind of person who is strong or capable enough to deal with the pressures of such a job. As other members of Precious’ ad-hoc support system, Lenny Kravitz and Mariah Carey turn in performances that are okay on the surface, I suppose, but the star presence that each one brings to the proceedings despite their deglammed appearances that they wind up throwing things out of balance every time they appear on the screen. However, the most unendurable performance of the bunch is the one that has inexplicably been receiving the lion’s share of the attention and that is the one from comedienne Mo’nique as Precious’ astonishingly evil mom. This is, of course, the attention-getting supporting role of the project and the problem is that Mo’nique seems to realize that just as much as we do. As a result, she spends so much time pulling out all the stops so that we can be astonished by her theoretically bravura tour de force that forgets to make the character into someone even vaguely believable. this is never more evident than during her final monologue where she spends so much time trying to dazzle us with her range that the entire thing feels like exactly what it is--an exceptionally blatant bit of Oscar bait.

Badly made, borderline racist (it cannot be coincidence that all the people trying to help or befriend Precious are light-skinned while her abusers are all dark-skinned) and deeply unpleasant in the way that it positions itself as a tale of redemptive uplift in order to justify its countless exploitative elements (so much so, in fact, that it is no wonder that Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, both of whom have built their respective media empires along these lines, bravely signed on as executive-producers after the film was completed and had its premiere at Sundance), “Precious” is absolute garbage from beginning to end and I cannot begin to understand why so many people, critics and audiences alike, are not only giving it a pass but raving about it as though it were a genuine masterpiece. My only guess is that they are confusing a film that features any number of serious, painful and wrenching story elements, which “Precious” does, with a film that is actually brave enough to deal with its serious, painful and wrenching story elements instead of luridly ladling them out for the masses to lap up, which it most definitely doesn’t do.

That said, I am fully aware that in regards to this particular film, my viewpoint is decidedly of the minority variety--apparently it is just me and legendary contrarian Armond White at the moment--and I suppose that if you still have a desire to see this film even after all that I have said here, there is the possibility that you may find yourself responding to it better than I did. That being said, I still think that “Precious” is a hateful and hollow shuck-and-jive that most observers are too cowed to criticize for fear of looking out-of-touch with those who have inexplicably embraced it. My guess is that in a couple of years, after all the hype as died down and the movie is left to be judged solely on its own merits, many of those currently celebrating it will wind up looking at it askance and wondering what the hell they ever saw in it in the first place.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=18174&reviewer=389
originally posted: 11/06/09 00:00:00
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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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