Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire

August 5, 2010

I’d been avoiding Precious for a while before I finally got around to watching it. Something was telling me it was going to be slow… and boring… and I just couldn’t muster up the stomach to watch it. Even the title of the movie was holding me back. The fact that someone as obnoxious and seemingly untalented as Mo’Nique won an Oscar was extremely intriguing, however, and I just couldn’t ignore the accolades thrust upon this film any longer. I’m glad to say it was my most pleasant surprise of any 2009 film.

I was right about one thing… Precious is not an easy film. The story is dark and some of the characters are hard to watch, particularly Mo’Nique as Precious’ abusive, alcoholic mother Mary. Precious’ circumstances are grim; she’s pregnant with a second child from her own father, a fact that creates even more tension in her relationship with her mother. Rather than realizing the traumatic experience of her child, Mary blames Precious for tempting her husband and takes out her own feelings of inadequacy on her daughter, often physically. Meanwhile, Precious is struggling to fit in at school and is recommended to try alternative schooling, where she meets her new teacher Ms. Rain. Once here, Precious begins a quest to break free of her violent and demoralizing upbringing.

I never read the book this film was adapted from, so I have no idea how faithful the script is to the source material. Either way, the story here is one worth watching. Yeah, it’s not an easy watch, but most films dealing with tough themes aren’t. Sapphire has created a character that is easy to root for because at her core, she seems like a good person and is clearly a victim of circumstances. You will definitely be rooting for her.

The best thing about Precious is the acting. I would have bet a lot of money against Mo’Nique if someone ever suggested she would win an Oscar, but she KILLS her role in this movie. She’s brutal and heart-wrenching as Precious’ troubled mom. It’s one of those performances, like Heath Ledger in last year’s The Dark Knight or Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married, that make you go “where did that come from?” Gabourey Sidibe plays the title character and watching the movie you think she’s doing a decent job, but only because you have no idea who this actress really is. I was watching Sidibe in her audition and in various other extras on the DVD and it’s pretty clear that she has some serious acting chops. Her real personality sounds more like a white valley girl than a troubled, black woman so her transformation makes the performance all the more spectacular. As if Mo’Nique wasn’t surprising enough, I found myself enthralled by the woman playing Mrs. Weiss, Precious’ welfare counselor, and was somewhat shocked and appalled to discover that it was Mariah Carey. I really thought she did a terrific job and even though she looked like a Plain Jane in this movie, her beauty still shown through, as I found myself attracted to her and wondering who the actress was. I was wondering after the movie what I would have thought of her performance if I had known who she was from the jump. I feel like I would have been inclined to hate on her… but alas, I will never know.

Precious is a tough movie, but it’s one worth sitting through. It’s not my favorite movie of 2009 and probably not the best, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t the most powerful. As it stands, Precious would probably find a spot in my top five films of 2009. Highly recommended, if only for Mo’Nique’s brilliant performance.

Grade: A-
Viewings: 1
Replay Value: Not much… a great, one time film, but nothing I’d add to my DVD collection.
Oscar Watch: Nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture and Director, with wins for Mo’Nique in Best Supporting Actress and Geoffrey Fletcher for Best Adapted Screenplay. Gabourey Sidibe was nominated for Best Actress.
Nudity: A couple of rape scenes that are obviously more stomach-turning than erection-inducing.

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