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Movie Review - 'Precious'


Starring Gabby Sidibe, Mo'Nique, Paula Patton, and Mariah Carey
Directed by Lee Daniels
Rated R

preciousposter.jpg Texas-based singer-songwriter Nanci Griffith doesn't have much in common with the characters in Precious, but while watching the film I was nevertheless reminded over and over again her song "It's a Hard Life Wheverever You Go":

It's a hard life, it's a hard life, it's a very hard life
It's a hard life wherever you go
If we poison our children with hatred
Then the hard life is all that they'll know
And there ain't no place in this world for these kids to go

We don't need to see this story unfold to know many of the particulars. Precious (newcomer Gabby Sidibe) is 16, pregnant with her second child, both the result of incestuous rape by her father. Her mother (Mo'Nique) blames Precious for the pregnancies, and blames her for just about everything else. They live on welfare in Harlem, and Precious is obese, illiterate, quiet, trapped in her own dreams, and afraid.

Much of that we could guess with very little knowledge of the film. But director Lee Daniels has given his characters (as originally penned by Sapphire in her novel Push) the responsibility of the weight of their actions. Free passes don't really exist here. By the end of the film, we not only see the consequences of their lives, but so do Precious and her mother.

Because of her situation, Precious is pushed out of her public school and into an alternative school called Each One Teach One, where Dead Poet's Society meets Dangerous Minds. None of the students in the all-female school have much direction, though some of them, to their credit, have determination to change their lives. This is eye-opening to Precious, as is every encounter with her teacher, Ms. Rain (Paula Patton), who is clearly the first person to come into Precious' life selflessly.

The film incorporates the dreams of this lost teenager - red carpet premieres, starring in foreign films, dancing in front of crowds - as a counterbalance to the most painful moments in her life, like bare-knuckle beatings by her mother and her rape. While she's being attacked, Precious shuts down and escapes into her dreamworld. It's powerful stuff.

While Sidibe is certainly a treasure (and the film gets solid performances by Patton and a dressed-down Mariah Carey as a social worker), the power of this film comes from Mo'Nique, who is clearly not the same performer she was in Soul Plane. She has no throwaway lines, she doesn't treat any of them as throwaways, and her shattering monologue near the end of the film is unforgettable.

Stripping a mountain of emotion away from that moment, we have to acknowledge that to get there in the first place, to put that speech on screen, requires an overwhelming amount of confidence from the actor, the kind that a director has to provide.

It cannot be said whether Mo'Nique will ever have a performance like this again, but we do know she never had one like it before, not on any level. And since he had the backing of producers Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, Lee Daniels very likely could have cast a proven commodity like an Angela Bassett or an Alfre Woodard, but as intense as they are, he figured correctly that the role needed something more primal and unpolished. Those attributes are more important to the single moment in question and the character in general than quantifiable screen experience.

I wonder if Daniels could have made a slightly better film three to five years from now. There are a couple of smaller issues with the narrative, where it drags unnecessarily and the classroom stuff seems to go on too long, but I think overall he and the film are still better off because he has clearly worked instinctively without the benefit of years upon years of filmmaking. It raw, it's a little rough around the edges, and in a way, that's exactly what it should be.

Reader Comments (3)

mo'nique gave a performance any actor would give their right arm to give... i went into the theater (missing the premiere in denver because the tickets sold out in 15 minutes!) with a full bucket of popcorn... i left with a full bucket... totally forgetting to eat it during the film.

i've never had that happen before.

and, that last monologue was breath taking in it's perfection.

Sunday, December 6, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterquin browne

Great review, far better than The Playlist, they just slammed the film, almost needlessly & quite nitpicky...

I thought it was far superior & glad to see you rated it a 4 Aper....

It was powerful & in your face & raw, just as it was meant to be, amazing performance all around, WOW....

Monday, December 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSEAN

I saw it the right way and the wrong way... first in the theater .. then at home ( asks no questions ill tell no lies). Both times i was left deconstructed! This has only happen with 2 other films: Color Purple & Joy luck club

I am a woman so films surrounding the struggles of women are greatly appreciated. But precious went beyond the gender and race factor.. it soon became clear the human factor was what had taken hold of me and precious carried my heart n soul with her from the first ten minutes to the end of the film. I leave that film feeling haunted, open, confused, disgusted, hopeful, thankful, and sending up prayers and love to anyone who may actually be living that nightmare.. and there are Millions of women all over the world who can related to that tragic existence. Monique's character blewme away.. and Moniques performs is what makes the movie so haunting for me.. that ending monologue.. that simple sentence " whoo hooo was gonna love me, who was gonna make me feel good, huh?" throws my heart on the ground each time. She justifys her child's life of sexual abuse and her sexual abuse on precious by the means of ignorance from her own mother, hatred of herself, and a desperate lonlienss that clearly drove her to the boundries of life. How powerful!!!!!

It took me about an hour for me to "get my mind right" and another hour just for the movie to let go of me! WOW no matter the technical woes of the film.. the devastation, power, and hope literally hops off the screen into you. I only watched it those 2 times, and it took me a while to decide to watch it that 2nd time. I would like to a 3rd .. just not ready yet.. how many movies make u say that!

Thank you Mr Daniels for shakin me up . thats what art is fo :)

Thursday, January 7, 2010 | Unregistered Commentererica p

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