For a film that touches on so many challenging and controversial topics -- including sexual and mental/emotional abuse, teen pregnancy, HIV, and illiteracy -- Precious is told with such energy, style, and conviction that it's impossible not to be awed by the artistry of the film even when we're shrinking away from the devastation taking place on the screen. Even when things get so grim that all hope seems lost, director Lee Daniels keeps us emotionally involved by merging documentary-style filmmaking with urban surrealism in a way that's genuinely captivating and original. While some may argue that Daniels' stylistic flourishes have no place in a story like Precious, it's precisely his bold artistic choices that set the film apart from any number of inner-city underdog stories, and take us into the mind of a young woman whose devastating circumstances are preventing her from reaching her true potential.
Clareece "Precious" Jones (Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe) doesn't have an easy life; poor, illiterate, and the victim of severe sexual and emotional abuse, she's just gotten pregnant by her father a second time. She is about to be kicked out of school when her principal recommends that she seek out an alternative form of education. Upon enrolling in the "Each One Teach One" program, Precious encounters benevolent teacher Ms. Rain (Paula Patton). Unlike Precious' distracted teachers back at public school, Ms. Rain recognizes that the emotionally fragile young student isn't defined by her shortcomings, and has an unusual gift for writing. But every time Precious experiences any form of trauma, she mentally withdraws to a place where all of her wildest dreams come true. After giving birth to her second child, Precious strives to make a break from her abusive mother, Mary (Mo'Nique), and become a responsible parent. With a little help from Ms. Rain and her classmates, she might find the strength to do just that, and break the cycle of abuse that began when her father started molesting her at the tender age of three.
Though Daniels' unique portrayal of Precious' sporadic flights of fancy do succeed in elevating the proceedings to something far more profound than your typical inspirational drama, Precious really is an actor's film, and with it the director has established himself as a filmmaker who knows how to coax a memorable performance from his players. In her first starring role, young Sidibe displays a believable blend of fear and self-doubt that perfectly contrasts the cornered confidence just beneath the surface. She may not have the advantage of a good education, but her insight into her own situation is unusually perceptive and acutely observant. Everything about the character of Precious speaks to her condition -- from her manner of speaking to her body language -- and Sidibe hits every note wonderfully.
As effective as Sidibe is at embodying her deeply troubled character, however, it's the villain who makes or breaks the protagonist's struggle, and as Precious' monster of a mother, popular comic Mo'Nique proves that making us laugh isn't the only thing she does well. Her portrayal of the mother who has allowed her daughter to be abused -- and then condemned her for being a victim -- is harrowing and horrifying, and the monologue in which she attempts to come clean is simply shattering in the way it reveals the inner workings of a damaged mind. Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz also get kudos for shedding their glamorous public personas to portray a concerned social worker and a compassionate male nurse, respectively, though it's ultimately Mo'Nique who steals the show as the kind of mother you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy. She's the dark crowning jewel of a film that's at once horrifying, challenging, and bleakly beautiful.
Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' By Sapphire on AllMovie
Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' By Sapphire (2008)