LIFE IS HARD. LIFE IS SHORT. LIFE IS PAINFUL. LIFE IS RICH. LIFE IS…
It’s been reported that when Oprah Winfrey saw this film at an early stage, it “split her open”. Together with Tyler Perry, she contacted the director, Lee Daniels, and offered their help in promoting the film. The duo got executive-producer credits for their work and the film became a tremendous hit, especially with critics. There were however those who felt the movie had certain issues. One of them was Daniels himself who allegedly hesitated to have it shown at the Cannes film festival, arguing that he might not want “white French people to see our world”. The remark reveals an uncertainty as to how a film like Precious (and the book behind it, “Push”) portrays the African-American community. That uneasiness was reflected in some of the reviews as well.
The story begins in 1987. Claireece “Precious” Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) is 16 years old, illiterate and very obese. She lives in a Harlem apartment with her abusive mother Mary (Mo’Nique) who has never forgiven her daughter for letting her father rape her. Claireece became pregnant and gave birth to a girl with Down syndrome. Now she’s carrying her second child and once again her father is responsible. The way Mary sees it, Claireece stole her husband. All Mary does now is sit in the apartment and collect welfare checks. When the principal learns that Claireece is pregnant again, she is forced to expel her but finds an alternative school.
With a little help from other troubled students in the new class, and her idealistic teacher Blu Rain (Paula Patton), Claireece could finally see some light at the end of the tunnel…
One last, bitter shock
If this were a British film, Ken Loach would’ve directed it. I haven’t even mentioned everything that’s negative in Claireece’s life and the movie saves one last, bitter shock for the final half-hour. In fact, the story borders on being a little too much and its non-stop barrage of atrocities that make up the life of this particular African-American family was attacked by some black critics, especially Armond White who thought of it as “demeaning the idea of black American life”.
What primarily carries the film through is the performances. Newcomer Sidibe was deservedly praised; anyone who has seen her in interviews knows that she seems to be a very happy, almost bubbly woman, completely opposite to the character she so convincingly plays here. Mariah Carey was also noticed for her toned-down, unglamorous effort as a social worker, but the real eye-opener is Mo’Nique. The former phone-sex operator and stand-up comic, who was sexually abused by her brother at the age of seven, poured everything she got into the role of the abusive mother and is hypnotizing. A complete horror character at first, she eventually becomes a human being as we learn more about the events that turned her into this wretched person. She commands the screen in every one of her scenes.
Perhaps I’ve addressed too many negative things about the film. After all, it is a touching and, sadly, believable (albeit overburdened) slice of life, very well directed by Daniels who occasionally infuses his film with a sense of humor and a childish hope for better days.
Precious (based on the novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire) 2009-U.S. 109 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Lee Daniels, Gary Magness, Sarah Siegel-Magness. Directed by Lee Daniels. Screenplay: Geoffrey Fletcher. Novel: Sapphire (“Push”). Cast: Gabourey Sidibe (Claireece “Precious” Jones), Mo’Nique (Mary Jones), Paula Patton (Blu Rain), Mariah Carey, Sherri Shepherd, Lenny Kravitz.
Trivia: Helen Mirren was allegedly considered for the part that came to be played by Carey.
Oscars: Best Supporting Actress (Mo’Nique), Adapted Screenplay. BAFTA: Best Supporting Actress (Mo’Nique). Golden Globe: Best Supporting Actress (Mo’Nique).
Last word: “It took me nine, probably 10 years to stalk her. I have stalked her for 10 years. Sapphire is a scholar. She’s a genius, she’s a poet, she’s an intellect beyond belief. She doesn’t give a f**k about Hollywood. She don’t care about it, just doesn’t. It’s about literature and I think that Lady Luck must have been on my side because she finally embraced the idea. I think that even if I did a bad movie, it would not affect her brilliant masterpiece and I think that she saw the difference in both. She finally realised it and I was there the right time stalking her.” (Daniels, indieLondon)