Directed by Lee Daniels
Based on the novel Push by Saphhire
Starring Gabourey Sidibe, Mariah Carey, Paula Patton
Emotionally, physically, and sexually abused by both her mother and father, Clareece “Precious” Jones is born into a life that no one would ever want to be born into. As the terribly child-like and misspelled opening credits scrawl across the screen, it’s difficult not to gasp at the horror of her illiteracy. “Who let this happen?” you ask. “Who could possibly be so heartless?”
If you haven’t heard of Precious, a Lee Daniels’ film based on the novel Push by Sapphire, then you should check it out. It was in the Official Selection at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, won three awards at Sundance, and won the Audience Award at the Toronto Film Festival. As Oprah Winfrey put it, the film “split [her] open.” And I have to say, I mostly agree.
Precious (played by new actress Gabourey Sidibe) is a sixteen-year-old African American girl who managed to make it to the 9th grade without the ability to read or write beyond her own name. She is morbidly obese and seemingly apathetic towards life. But as we soon see, the characters in this film are shaped by circumstance and abuse. At home in Harlem, Precious is subject to both physical and verbal violence by her mother Mary (Mo’Nique). Mary is lazy and cruel, living off welfare and forcing her daughter to wait on her hand and foot. The only time Precious ever sees her father is when he rapes her − resulting in two children by the age of seventeen. Her mother blames her for the rape, calling her worthless and stupid.
At school, Precious is a case that the education system just passes by. She sits at the back, doesn’t speak, and doesn’t let on how poor her reading capabilities really are. When offered the chance to transfer to an alternative school, Each One/Teach One, Precious seizes the opportunity, despite her mother’s rants that she’s too dumb for school and ought to just go on “the welfare.”
What’s so likable about Precious as a character is her resilience. She dreams of being famous and loved, perks up when she talks about math, her favorite subject, and puts on makeup to go to school. Her childish hopes stand in the face of everyone that pushes her down, though she only lets her real self through to her caring and patient teacher, Ms. Rain (Paula Patton).
The acting in Precious is phenomenal. Precious gives a stunning performance in a difficult part, subtly revealing her character’s vibrant interior through the shell of indifference that she shows the world. Mo’Nique, as Mary, is show-stopping as a hateful, ruthless woman who herself has suffered at the hands of her husband; her performance is Oscar-worthy. Patton (Ms. Rain) is absolutely beautiful, both in her passion as a teacher and in her genuine love for Precious, while social worker Mrs. Weiss − played excellently by Mariah Carey − is realistically tough yet gentle-hearted. If you see this movie for nothing else, appreciate these actors’ efforts to bring this heart-breaking story to life on the screen.
Though I admire this film on many levels, I have to admit that the overall effect is not as powerful as I would’ve expected. Precious’ accomplishments seem somewhat glossed over, and even by the end of the film her hopes appear frustratingly futile against the obstacles still in her life. I left the theater more depressed than anything. On the one hand, I respect the rawness with which the filmmakers laid out her life, but on the other, I feel the film failed to reach the audience as profoundly as it could have.
This is one of those films that will impact every viewer in a different way. While I thought that overall the film fell short of its potential, I can’t overlook the marked honesty in its presentation. My best advice is to brace yourself, go to the theater, and judge Precious for yourself.