The story of Clareece Precious Jones (played by Gabourey Sidibe) unfolds like a horror story. We quickly learn that she is pregnant with her second child, and that both children were sired by her raping father. Her mother spends all day in front of the television, expecting Precious to service her every need. And mama Mary (played by Mo’Nique) is also violently abusive, spitting out an endless string of curse words in her first scene, all aimed at her daughter. To top it all off, now she’s getting kicked out of middle school – at the age of 16. (It gets worse.) No wonder that Precious has terribly low self-esteem. Yet she fantasizes about a better life all the time. In this film we learn that having dreams is not the same thing as having hope.
Fortunately one woman after another crosses Precious’ path and recognizes that this is a lost soul in need of rescuing. She ends up at an alternative school led by the indomitable Ms. Rain (Paula Patton) and also has a droll welfare worker (Mariah Carey) standing in her corner. But as often as she’s able to move ahead, Precious is continuously swept back into the cycle of abuse perpetrated by her mother. How can she rise above it all? Well, you have to just go and see for yourself.
The script is an adaptation of Push, a novel by poetess Sapphire. It’s so achingly real that one would think it’s based on a true story, perhaps the author’s own experience. But this is a piece of fiction that could be the story of a thousand young girls in this country that are beat down by the position that life puts them in, and struggle against the system to find a way out. Lee Daniels is the director, and this is only his second film – which is astonishing considering how deftly he brings this story to life. The pacing of the film is very well done, giving us just enough moments of levity and brightness to counteract the pits of despair that dominate. He smartly chooses to put us in Precious’ fantasies periodically to show that she’s able to step outside herself and try to find beauty in the ugly that is her life.
Newcomer to the screen Sidibe is remarkable not because she puts on a performance. It is because she is so believable that it’s hard to imagine she isn’t Precious. Her words come out half-mumbled all the time, but when she finds some joy, she simply glows. And get ready, folks – you may not have expected to hear these words in your lifetime, but “Academy Award winner Mo’Nique” is very possible! Her Mary is bitterly explosive, unleashing her fury at a moment’s notice – it has the feel of a suspense movie, because you never see it coming. It is only at the end that we begin to understand her motivation – unforgivable, but clearly excruciating. Also surprising is the understated turn by Mariah Carey. She goes anti-glam for this role, and it really works – we can almost forgive her for Glitter (but no, we shall not forget).
The remainder of the cast is full of “Oh that’s…!” surprises, which I won’t ruin here (and don’t go looking it up on IMDB first). I’ll just say that amongst the cast is another famous musician, a woman on a prominent daily talk show, and an actress most known for a late 80’s sitcom that takes place in a high school. Good luck!
On the whole this is a movie that is excellent in a way that is emotionally devastating. It has been a long time since a film so aptly portrayed the dark pit of abuse, while giving an uplifting light to guide us out. This movie hurts to see, but you are better for the experience. My grade – A.