By Brian Lafferty
December 5, 2009 (San Diego's East County) -- Precious (Gabourey Sidibe) is one of the most strong-willed characters I have seen in a long time. She’s pregnant, at sixteen, with her second child by her father. Her mother (Mo'Nique) is both physically and psychologically abusive, calling her mean names and always bringing her down. She’s illiterate. She’s harassed at school and on the street. She enrolls in an alternative school and the other students are initially mean-spirited. In her mind, the world is unfair and cruel, with very few people on her side.
This movie is one of the most aggressively depressing films I have seen in years. For every glimmer of hope for Precious, there is a major setback. However, she refuses to give up easily and this is why the film works. She slogs through this terrible life with a straight face that shows no emotion. She gives us an insight into what she’s thinking with narration that gives us a bleak, yet hopeful picture. She refuses to be intimidated, even when her mother belittles her and hurls a television set at her and her newborn son. When things get rough for her, including being raped by her own father, she retreats into a fantasy world where she’s loved and adored.
Visually speaking, the film is relentlessly gritty. The cinematography gives an honest glimpse of the streets of Harlem, where the buildings are ratty and the indoors are dark to the point where it is sometimes hard to see. There is no room for glamor. The actors look like normal people instead of looking beautiful with the help of high-profile make-up artists and costume designers. The exceptions are the fantasy sequences. These scenes contain saturated colors, brightness, and the actors are made up and dressed well. They also provide a balance between the real, gritty world and the ideal life Precious seeks.
In addition to the courageous performance by first time actress Sidibe, the supporting actors have plenty of moments to shine. Director Lee Daniels boldly goes against type by casting singers and comedians against type and it pays off. Mo’Nique, who is better known for making people laugh, is relentlessly and aggressively cruel. She’d rather sit at home and watch The $100,000 Pyramid than pursue a job and take care of her daughter. Mariah Carey gives a strong performance as the caring, no-nonsense welfare worker.
Despite its aggressively depressing nature, with scenes that will no doubt cause many gasps in the audience, Precious offers hope, albeit in a very subtle manner. This movie is at times hard to take but in the end it’s a very rewarding experience.
A Lionsgate release. Director: Lee Daniels. Screenplay: Geoffrey Fletcher, based on the novel “Push” by Sapphire. Original Music: Mario Grigorov. Cinematography: Andrew Dunn. Cast: Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Sherri Shepherd, and Lenny Kravitz. Runtime: 110 minutes. Rated R.