Saturday, December 5, 2009

Precious: Based on the novel Push by Sapphire - A Review

Precious – Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire is a devastating film. Set in Harlem on the late 1980’s the protagonist of the movie – Clareece Precious Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) - is 16 years old. She has one child who has Downs Syndrome and lives with her maternal grandmother and is pregnant with her second. Both of her children were conceived through rape at the hands of her now absent father. Precious lives with her physically and emotionally abusive mother (Mo’Nique) and she seems destined to a life of welfare and illiteracy. All of this potentially changes when she is offered a chance to try an alternative education led by the inspiring, beautiful and educated Ms Rain (Paula Patton).

Personally, I do not have any frame of reference to understand how someone can grow up this way. I am a white middle class chick whose parents were together. I had my issues and personal traumas, yes, but compared to Precious my baggage was nothing. This girl had pretty much every hardship known heaped upon her. And I guess she triumphed over most of them by the end of the film.

For me, this film rested on the performances and the acting was generally impressive. Gabourey Sidibe in the title role was very good. Considering this was her first professional role, she tackled the incredibly challenging material admirably.

Mo’Nique as Precious’ abusive mother was revelatory. There was nothing remotely sympathetic in her character. I don’t think I have ever seen Mo’Nique act before. She is a best know for her comedic roles and stand-up, but in this, she left behind her weave, her makeup, her rumoured diva attitude and lost herself in the role. She was outstanding and definitely award worthy.

Mariah Carey has redeemed herself from the travesty that was Glitter, and while she was by no means the strongest performance in the film, she held her own in her couple of scenes. She was barely recognizable as was Sherri Shepard (from The View) as the receptionist at the alternative school. I actually did not know who it was until I heard her speak. Lenny Kravitz brought in some much needed (for me) eye candy. But I do have to wonder if Kravitz and Carey’s castings were simply to garner some star power?

This film was not perfect for me however. I do not quite agree with the glowing reviews I have been reading. Although I understand that many people have hard, tough lives… what this girl goes through is every horrific thing you can imagine. This, for me, made the film not at all grounded in reality. Also, when Precious steals food, did it have to be a bucket of fried chicken? Really? Could there be a bigger cliché?

The dream sequences that Precious escapes into whenever she is being mistreated I found a little overdone. In particular there is a “scene” from an Italian movie that the practically illiterate Precious is watching on TV – an Italian movie, with subtitles, that the practically illiterate Precious is watching on TV – who knew that basic cable channels showed Italian movies that no one has heard of. And that practically illiterate teenagers would enjoy watching them. It was a little contrived.

Don't get me wrong, Precious is raw and powerful and numbing. I enjoyed it as much as you can enjoy a film about rape, abuse, incest, teen pregnancy, extreme poverty and morbid obesity. But to those who say it uplifting, I would ask them what part of being an HIV positive teenage mother of two children, one of whom has downs syndrome is uplifting? Yay to a probable death sentence?


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