Sunday, November 22, 2009

Emotionally wrenching ‘Precious’ features standout Mo’Nique, Sidibe performances

By Steve Crum

Viewing Precious is a classic example of either seeing a movie to be solely entertained, or seeing a movie because it truly means something. Precious is truly meaningful.

Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire (actual title) is a wrenching, emotional ride into living hell that features extreme family violence, incest, AIDS, and baby rape amidst poverty and its hopelessness. Sapphire’s best seller has been adapted by screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher with Lee Daniels (Shadowboxer) at the directorial helm. While events spiral down into grimness, morality ultimately prevails.

Central character Claireece Precious Jones, an overweight 16-year old convincingly portrayed by first time actress Gabourey Sidibe (who is actually 26), is an illiterate, junior high student and single mother living in Harlem with her controlling mother, Mary. Mary is played by stand-up comedienne Mo’Nique, who will surely be Oscar nominated for her standout dramatic acting as the most abusive, profane mama of all time.

As the film opens in 1987 Harlem, Precious struggles both at home in her dreary apartment and at public school. Her mother, who sits in her easy chair, incessantly smokes cigarettes as she watches TV, and insults her daughter by telling her she will never succeed at anything because she is too stupid and ugly. It is not unusual for mother Mary to bounce an ash tray or plate off her daughter’s head as Precious has her back turned while preparing dinner or washing dishes. Mom hates Precious, but Precious perseveres.

Note Daniels’ cleverly inserted dream sequences that illustrate Precious’ self esteem fantasies. For example, she looks in a mirror and imagines she is in a beautiful gown at a film premiere, surrounded by adoring fans. It is an escape valve from her depressing existence, which is a welcome break for the audience too.

Meanwhile, Precious’ school life suffers. She is a loner, friendless, and barely speaks to anyone. When teachers try to help her, Precious’ mother threatens and curses them. Precious discovers she is again pregnant, so she agrees to attend an alternative school. Her class is taught by Ms. Rain (Paula Patton), who becomes a positive force in Precious’ life. There are sequences at the welfare agency, featuring a surprisingly good turn by singer Mariah Carey as the sympathetic counselor, Mrs. Weiss.

Without revealing too much, be aware of a major plot turn which involves possibly the most disturbing and graphic fight scene (between mother and daughter) ever filmed. Realize that with conflict, even this extreme, a good story like this must proceed to resolution. Stay with Precious, although by the conclusion you will have been emotionally yanked multiple ways.

Sure, Precious showcases the stereotypical welfare recipients who are resentful, immoral money grubs purposely cheating the government by dodging work in favor of living off taxpayer money. Conversely, the film makes its case for needy innocents such as infant dependents and underage mothers. Precious is an important film, a social document, driven by its gritty style.
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On an A to F Grade Scale: A-

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