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- Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
Directed by Lee Daniels
Screenplay by Damien Paul
Claireece “Precious” Jones – Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe
Mary – Mo’Nique
Ms. Rain – Paula Patton
Nurse John – Lenny Kravitz
Ms. Weiss – Mariah Carey
Cornrows – Sherri Shepherd
Precious is Anything But…
Prepare for a Raw, Compelling and Courageous Film
Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire is not an easy film to watch. A story of an illiterate, obese Harlem teenager who is impregnated by her drug addicted father for the second time and who suffers physical, mental and sexual abuse by her mother doesn’t exactly scream “date night.” Yet powerful performances by newcomers and tour de force acting by some unexpected names make Precious a film that should not be ignored.
Twenty-four year old Gabourey Sidibe, in an astounding debut performance, plays 16-year old Claireece Precious Jones. Her life is going nowhere. She steals food and tries her best to avoid the verbal beatings brought upon her by her mother, Mary, who doesn’t hesitate to use her fist or frying pans on her daughter as well.
Precious’ first child is cruelly referred to by Mary as “Little Mongo,” because she has Down’s Syndrome. The toddler is being raised by Precious’ grandma, who only brings it to the Joneses on the day the social worker visits their apartment so that Mary can continue to collect a welfare check.
Things certainly are bleak, and when they get bleak, Precious escapes in to a fantasy world in her mind where she’s a famous, glamorous actress walking the red carpet, or being adored by a perfect June Cleaver-type mom. In reality, as long as Precious can make it through the day invisible – at school, on the streets or at home – she can breathe a sigh of relief.
Unfortunately, that never happens. When the school finds out Precious is pregnant again, they kick her out. Despite her lack of education and zero self-esteem, Precious knows well enough to enroll in an alternative school to get her G.E.D.– if only to keep her from having to be in the confines of the same four walls as her monster mother.
What she doesn’t expect is to actually get a teacher, Blu Rain (Paul Patton), who cares enough about her situation. Rain slowly helps build confidence in Precious so that the teenager can stand up and change the course she’s been traveling on. The process is slow and painful. For every step Precious takes, she often takes two steps back. Yet with the help of Rain and a social worker, Ms. Weiss (Mariah Carey, yes that one!) she manages to get through her second birth and escape the far-reaching tentacles her mother has wrapped around her.
Hats off to director Lee Daniels, who previously produced equally gritty films like Monster’s Ball and The Woodsman. His former career as a casting director gives him a unique eye for talent. The man who stripped all glitz and glamour from actress Halle Berry and helped her win an Oscar in the devastating Monster’s Ball, continues to make daring casting choices that pay off. Comedian Mo’Nique, best known for urban comedies like Phat Girlz and Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins, gives such a frightening performance as Mary Jones, the Academy should just hand over the Oscar statuette to her now. Her scene towards the end when she is confronted by both Precious and Weiss for all her wicked deeds is enough to make your stomach churn. Mo’Nique previously worked on Daniels’ directorial debut, Shadowboxer.
Meanwhile Sidibe seemingly comes out of nowhere to deliver a performance that’s at once heart breaking, courageous and hopeful. Singer Mariah Carey, who starred in the Daniels’ produced indie Tennessee, is virtually unrecognizable in a role that’s a complete 180 degree turn from her disastrous 2001 film Glitter. Although she’s only in a few scenes in Precious, it’s a successful comeback for Carey that will no doubt earn back respect from those who were quick to cast her aside as an actress.
The film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January and has been slowly collecting awards and followers since then. Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry were so moved by the film that they signed on as Executive Producers in the hopes that their names will help Precious find a greater audience.
Perhaps there are those who will go see it on the recommendation of the Mighty ‘O’ or Perry, whose name on a movie has always yielded box-office numbers. Yet regardless of their involvement, Precious the movie, like Precious the character, will undoubtedly find its way out of the darkness and into the light.