Precious was never going to be a light-hearted trip to the cinema. Harrowing to the point of being labeled “poverty porn,” it is the story of Claireece “Precious” Jones (Gabourey Sidibe), a morbidly obese, illiterate African American teenager, who is raped by her father, beaten by her mother and pregnant with her second child of incest. Based on the novel Push, by Sapphire, it’s worth noting that Precious is an amalgam, a combination and terrifying representation of Sapphire’s experiences as a teacher in Harlem. This no doubt explains the sympathetic, borderline angelic characterisation of Precious’ teacher, Ms. Rain (Paula Patton), whose dedication and tenacity resembles a slightly more realistic version of Michelle Pfeiffer circa Dangerous Minds.
So why subject yourself to 109 minutes of horrible abuse? Surely rumours of Mariah Carey’s make up free face and Glitter-salvaging performance won’t quite do the trick. It’s honestly a tough call, other than to say Sidibe fearlessly embodies a member of society that deserves recognition. Illiteracy, obesity and abuse are tragic and uncomfortable realities that Precious goes a long way to demystify. Mo’Nique cleaning up the awards season for her brutal performance as Precious’ fatally flawed mother shines the spotlight brighter still on the vicious, generational cycle of violence.
But lest this review descend into a public service announcement, suffice it to say that as much as director Lee Daniels doesn’t shy away from the horrifying reality, nor does he forget the rich, soothing and supporting realm of fantasy. Every time Precious is pushed down (hence the original title), she escapes into a utopian dreamscape of wealth, fame and love. The journey of this film is the intersection of these two worlds, where Precious equips herself with the skills to carve out her own life, somewhere in the middle.
Australian release date: 4 February 2010