PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL BY SAPPHIRE
(director: Lee Daniels; screenwriter: Geoffrey Fletcher/based on the novel Push by Sapphire; cinematographer: Andrew Dunn; editor: Joe Klotz; music: Mario Grigorov; cast: MoNique (Mary), Paula Patton (Ms. Blu Rain), Maria Carey (Ms. Weiss), Sherri Shepherd (Cornrows), Lenny Kravitz (Nurse John), Kimberly Russell (Katherine), Gabourey Sidibe (Claireece “Precious” Jones), Grace Hightower (Social Worker); Runtime: 109; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Lee Daniels/Sarah Siegel-Magness/Gary Magness; Lionsgate; 2009)
“Piles on the abuses to keep things real-life real instead of Hollywood-like real.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Former casting director Lee Daniels (“Shadowboxer”) directs this inspirational drama about child abuse. It’s a tear-jerker, gritty, realistic drama, that’s based on the 1996 novel Push by Sapphire. It’s written by Geoffrey Fletcher, who piles on the abuses to keep things real-life real instead of Hollywood-like real.
The film is set in New York Citys Harlem of 1987. Claireece “Precious” Jones is an obese 16-year-old African-American girl who has a four year old Down syndrome daughter and is pregnant again after being raped again by her deadbeat but now deceased dad and is unmercifully abused by her monster couch potato mom Mary (MoNique). Precious does not function well in a chaotic school setting, where she still attends a junior high school and suffers from being illiterate; and, at her dysfunctional home, is forced to cook and wait hand and foot on her hostile mom, who plies her with constant verbal abuse by telling her how worthless and fat she is and the piggish mom also shows she cares only about getting her welfare check.
Because Precious is pregnant again, she’s discharged from her rowdy regular school and transferred to an alternative school, whose motto is Each One/Teach One. There she’s guided by her caring tough-love teacher Ms. Blu Rain (Paula Patton), who helps ease the child’s pain by getting her to think and articulate more clearly about her situation while raising her academic skills. At home Precious eats junk food and watches stupid TV programs and escapes reality by daydreaming that she’s someone who is pop star popular, while at her new school she bonds with her fellow at-risk teenage classmates and begins to open up and find her worth in life. For long stretches the film wallows in ghetto misery, with no let up, until no-nonsense social worker Ms. Weiss (Maria Carey) gets Precious to reveal that mom’s boyfriend has been abusing her since she was a child and then her long dark journey into trying to save herself begins in earnest.
Much of the credit for why the cliche-ridden film works so well goes to the moving performances, especially the featured one by Gabourey Sidibe–the glue that holds the film together. First-time actress Sidibe is the victimized child who could be the poster child for abused girls and whose quiet but angry performance brings home in an unflattering but affecting way, like it or not, the way it is for too many inner-city children.
The film is poised to move into more complex territory, but stops short–leaving us with this effective and watchable worthy melodrama that gives us an unvarnished, crude and unpleasant look at social-ills facing many in today’s turbulent society.
It was a Sundance winning drama. Oprah Winfrey signed on as executive producer.
REVIEWED ON 12/25/2009 GRADE: B+