Precious is one intense and powerful movie. It’s about an obese, illiterate, sexually and physically abused African American girl who refuses to give up on herself when everything around her conspires to wreck her and beat her down.
The reason why the movie works as well as it does — in spite of a not great script– is the performances of the women. This is a movie all about women and their struggles to be seen and heard in a world that doesn’t give a shit. Gabourey Sidibe makes an incredible film debut as Clarieece “Precious” Jones the girl who refuses to give up. She breaks your heart and mends it all in a two hour period.
Monique, who is best known for her comedy, plays Precious’ vicious mother Mary. Mary is a monster. I have not been as terrified watching a woman onscreen since I first saw Margaret Hamilton in her green face holding Dorothy hostage in The Wizard of Oz. Mary is even scarier than Faye Dunaway channeling Joan Crawford in Mommy Dearest. Just when you think Mary can’t get any worse, she does, and you honestly cannot believe you are watching such horror unfold onscreen.
Paula Patton plays Blu Rain the teacher who helps Precious discover love. She shows her that people can care about others. She has a smooth, calm and reassuring voice that guides Precious. Mariah Carey (sans makeup and any glimpse of her real life) plays the social worker Ms. Weiss who tries to connect with Precious and get her to talk about the abuse.
Precious challenges and assaults every nerve ending. It pushes the viewer to see people that are mostly invisible in the culture (and onscreen) and humanizes them. But Precious is by far not a perfect film. The script by first time screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher is really far fetched and paints a picture that is only there black and white (not talking about color here) and full of stereotypes. For example, the women who brutalize Precious are dark skinned while the women who help her are lighter skinned. What does that mean? Is it intentional? What if anything is he trying to say? What is most missing from the film is nuance and gray areas and that is clearly the directing choice of Lee Daniels. He wants you to think in extremes because Precious’ world is extreme.
I hope that people go out and see Precious. It’s very much worth it. But be prepared, it is a movie that will move you, and challenge you and leave you breathless at times. Don’t go if you are looking for something light. Go and use this movie as an opportunity to have some really important conversations that most of us usually avoid because they are hard. That just might be the most important thing this movie can do. Make us talk and listen.
Precious opens up in limited release today in Chicago, NY, LA, and Atlanta. Details here.