Review: Precious: Based on the Novel By Sapphire (2009)

Precious: Based on the Novel By Sapphire (2009)
109 minutes
Rated – R
Directed by Lee Daniels
Starring: Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey

Grade:  A-

Packed with a number of outstanding acting performances from the most unlikeliest candidates, Precious is a dark and raw film that surprisingly has an uplifting moral to tell.

Taken place in Harlem 1987, the protagonist, Precious Jones, is played by Gabourey Sidibe who is extremely riveting in her acting debut.  She is an overweight African American who lives in a world of poverty and abuse.  At 16-years-young she’s been raped by her father, had a child with down syndrome, lives off of welfare, is physically and emotionally abused by her mom, and is pregnant with her second child.  Nothing is going right with Precious until two women take the spotlight in her world and impacts her.

First and most importantly is her alternative schooling teacher, Miss Rain (Patton).  With a passion for teaching and a strong will to get through to her students, Rain goes the distance getting to know Precious and offers her kindness and love that has been barren to her throughout her life.  Inside that small classroom, Precious finally feels important and can have her voice be heard by the rest of the students.

But when she’s not at school she’s stuck at home with her abusive mother, Mary (played spectacularly by stand-up comedian Mo’Nique).  If there is a more complex character than Precious in this movie, it’s Mary.  With glimpses of tenderness and motherly love, she is corrupted by selfishness and a cheating husband.  But instead of being mad at him, she’s upset at Precious for stealing her man and takes it out on her in the cruelest ways.

Precious is forced to talk about her problems at home with social worker Ms. Weiss (Mariah Carey) in order to apply for her welfare checks.  Opening up to her unloads a great weight that has been on Precious for quite some time.  In the stunning and emotional conclusion between Precious, Mary, and Ms. Weiss, a lot is revealed that is as shocking as it will tug at your heart.

With such serious material coming from the best-selling novel by Sapphire, Lee Daniels (Monster’s Ball) is able to do a hell of a job balancing out the movie, giving it a intriguing look at the life of Precious.  He never over-steps any of the social issues, but he doesn’t play it safe either.  Here is a well-paced, engaging story that has you emotionally invested in the characters… not an easy accomplishment.

Onto the performances, Sidibe’s Precious is stellar.  You just know she has a lot to say, but internalizes most of it.  She’s talented and is smart, but when you’re told otherwise for your whole life it’s impossible to not believe it.  Sidibe is able to capture this type of torment and peril in Precious.

And then there’s Mo’Nique’s performance that a lot of critics are already saying is “Oscar worthy.”  While I cannot disagree, giving her that title is probably a bit pre-mature.  She portrayed Precious’ mother with a relentless assault while emotionally giving the audience an understanding for her actions, something I didn’t think was possible.  The role she played is difficult but was powerfully rewarding at the end.

Overall, Precious isn’t an easy film to watch but is one of the better films I’ve seen this year.  It tackled social issues right at the source and told such an important story in a way for the public to relate to and understand.  A film like this doesn’t come around too often.  Do yourself a favor and see it.

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