Precious is a film that is so powerful it makes everything else that has come out this season seem like child's play. Based on Sapphire's brilliant 1996 novel 'Push', director Lee Daniels' adaption is a relentless punch to the gut that magnificently captures the depression, angst, and ultimate hope of the source material.
Gabourey Sidibe stars as the title character and she gives one of the most powerful debut performances of all-time. She starts off as a pit of despair with circumstances that seem nothing less than insuperable.
1987. Harlem. Claireece "Precious" Jones is pregnant with her second child. Her own father is the baby's father for the second time. She comes home every day to her mother Mary (Mo'Nique), the most terrifying mother I have ever seen on screen.
When Mrs. Lichtenstein (Nealla Gordon) offers Precious the opportunity to enroll at an alternative school, she sees a small glimmer of hope in her life. Things gets off to somewhat of a slow start as she doesn't score well on her literacy exam, and continues to be very shy in class. However, with the support of her teacher Ms. Blue Rain (Paula Patton) and her fellow female classmates, she is able to make the classroom her new home. That doesn't sit too well with Mary, who continually forces her daughter to see Mrs. Weiss (Mariah Carey), a social worker, in order to earn her welfare payments.
This is a film built on the powerhouse performances of its female actors. Lenny Kravitz has the only male role in this film worth mentioning, and he is quite good, but the film belongs to the women. The performances of Patton, Sidibe, and Mo'Nique are three of the year's best and all worthy of Oscars. Don't let the beautiful voice and figure of Paula Patton fool you; she is a challenging teacher. Of course she sympathizes with Precious and the rest of her students, but she makes them work. She knows that for these women to go anywhere in life, she is going to have to push them to the fullest extent.
Mo'Nique is absolutely devastating as the mother from hell. She reaches a level of intensity and emotion that is rarely seen in a supporting female character. She is a broken women, and we can feel it from the first time we see her sitting on that couch and lighting up. She will shock you with the range of emotions she provokes. In some scenes, I wanted to shout back at her, and in others, I actually felt pity for this woman.
And finally, the screen debut of Gabby Sidibe. She creates the most layered portrait of the year. There are so many emotions going through Precious' mind and Sidibe has the ability to make us aware of all of them without even saying a single word. She is in a different league than every other lead female performance I've seen all year. Sidibe and Mo'Nique should walk away with Oscars. Hands down.
With all of these powerful and willing performers, the film needed the right director to bring it all together, and Lee Daniels was certainly the right choice. The documentary feel of the film is masterful and an absolutely perfect representation of the novel. This is Precious' story, and for the most part, it isn't a pleasant one, and that is reflected in the way Daniels shoots this film. Consistently zooming in and out on his actors' faces, he captures emotions that no other film this year will come even close to.
What ultimately makes this film something more than a depression vehicle is the subtle element of hope that comes full circle as the credits roll. But make no mistake, this isn't a fairy tale. This film doesn't end up with Precious reading a college acceptance letter or landing a successful job. That isn't the point. This film is Precious' first step towards a bright future. But the first step is always the toughest and I was glad I could share it with her.