Terrible And Stunning, A Winner


Bleak, gritty, unsettling, beautiful and very human, "Precious" is — along with "The Hurt Locker" — among the best movies of the year.

Based on Sapphire’s best-selling novel, "Push," the screenplay mostly cleaves to the book. Morbidly obese Claireece Precious Jones at 16 has borne one of her own father’s children and is pregnant with a second. She lives with her psychologically and physically abusive mother, Mary, and goes to school but is almost illiterate. When she is expelled for being pregnant a second time, the school principal finds her an alternative school where Precious, against her mother’s wishes, enrolls and begins her lumbering journey toward self-knowledge and a sense of self-worth.

Along the way, the film slams Precious — and us — with horror after horror. Yet her inner spirit takes her, and us, to a fantasy world where she is beautiful, glamorous, loved. And why not? Don’t we all imagine better worlds in which our lives are different? When Precious is told she is ugly and unwanted, she looks in a mirror and sees a beautiful, blonde girl. When she is pushed down in the street by a bully, she imagines him as Valentino dancing with her under spotlights. She fantasizes performing at the Apollo.

Yes, this is melodrama. But director Lee Daniels has crafted a film without sentimentality. This is no fairy tale; Precious isn’t saved from her harsh world by any deus ex machina. She is helped by a system of social support we often denigrate but can work, however inefficiently. And then Precious wills her own survival and future, and you believe she will survive because she makes you believe in her.

Gabourey Sidibe, in an amazing screen debut, plays Precious. Black and huge, with wary eyes, Sidibe plays Precious as sweet, ferocious, funny, fragile, resilient, and above all, as a little girl in need of affection and security. Her mother is played by comedienne Mo’Nique, who inhabits the role with a viciousness that makes you shrink at first and want to close your eyes later. This is a woman so filled with jealousy and anger that she abuses her own granddaughter.

Daniels, in only his second directorial assignment, has cast his film imaginatively and brilliantly. Paula Patton at first seems too beautiful to be Blu Rain, the alternate school teacher, but her sympathy and determination are both real and touching. Lenny Kravitz, as the only male character, is fine; and Mariah Carey, stripped of makeup and wearing a dreary wig, is absolutely believable as a social worker who cares but who knows all the lies and excuses her clients can invent.

But in the end the movie belongs to Sidibe and Mo’Nique. It is difficult to imagine two more stunning performances this year. Both will be nominated for many awards, and both will win many. They are unforgettable.

 

"Precious" is rated R for child abuse, including sexual assault, and pervasive language. It is coming soon to both The Moviehouse in Millerton, NY, and the Triplex Cinema in Great Barrington, MA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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