Mo'Nique has already won a Golden Globe, an SAG Award, and many other accolades for playing Mary Jones in Precious, and it will all culminate in an Oscar win on March 7th. And she's earned it. Simply put, it's one of the most powerful supporting female performances I've ever seen. On the surface, her character is a devil of a mother. She abuses her child both physically and emotionally, she did nothing to stop her boyfriend from sexually abusing her daughter, and every day she tries to talk Precious (Gabourey Sidibe) into living off welfare instead of earning an education (more after the jump).
Throughout the first hour and a half of this film, there is not a single attempt from the actress, the director, or the screenwriter to create a sympathetic side to this character. Perhaps they use this technique to make it easier to sympathize with Precious' circumstances, but the plain truth of the matter is that for 95% of this film, Mo'Nique's character is a complete witch, and nothing else.
Then comes the film's closing scene. Precious is sitting in her social worker's (Mariah Carey) office, waiting for her mother. Mary has continually expressed interest to be reunited with her daughter and her granddaughter after Precious moves out, and this is her last chance to get them back. And she swings for the fences. Mo'Nique delivers a mind-boggling monologue that accomplishes several things. For one, it is able to humanize a woman that gives us every reason to hate her. I'm not sure I've ever seen such a devilish character evoke so much sympathy in so little time. It helps that the scene is so well-written, and Daniels' gritty, documentary-like direction does wonders for this sequence in particular.
What this scene also does is provide us with some insight as to what happened before the film started. Throughout this picture, Precious thinks often about the times her father raped her, and the times her mother abused her in similar ways, but in this scene, Mo'Nique tells us why she has become the cruel mother she is, and her speech is, in all honesty, a very convincing confession. In a way, Mary has been abused just as bad as Precious has. This is a woman who had to stand by for years and watch her boyfriend abuse her infant daughter, while she was shoved aside like an irrelevant afterthought. As Mary herself puts it:
"But, those... those things she told you I did to her? Who...who...who else was going to love me? Who else was going to touch me? Who else was going to make me feel good?"Many of the film's naysayers have pointed their finger in the direction of Lee Daniels, but for this particular scene, his direction is rightfully subtle. Above all else, this is a film built upon great performances, and Mo'Nique turns in the film's best work in these final minutes. I can't remember the last time I've sat in a theater that was so silent and completely blown away by what was on screen. Right after I saw this conclusion for the first time, I knew I had to see it again, and sure enough, I was back in the theater the following weekend.
No actor commanded the screen in 2009 the way Mo'Nique did, and just thinking about her filmography up until this point makes my head spin. How can a woman who appeared in Beerfest, Phat Girlz, Irish Jam, and Soul Plane -- not that I've actually seen any of those films, but they sound ridiculous -- deliver such a dramatically devastating performance? I have no way of answering that question, and I don't think I ever will. Time will tell if Mo'Nique can find some dramatic consistency, but as of right now, her performance as Mary Jones is enough for me. It stands as one of the defining female roles of the decade.
For a glimpse at just how good she is in this film, take a look at the clip below. For those of you who haven't seen it, this clip takes place just after Precious receives an invitation to the "Each One, Teach One" program. It's safe to say that Mary isn't as excited about this as her daughter is. Be forewarned, it does contain extreme profanity, and the content could be (depending on the viewer) very upsetting and disturbing.