This weekend I got around to finally seeing one of the most buzzed-about films of the year, Lee Daniels’ Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire. The buzz is justified. This is a film definitely worth seeing.
Precious packs a big emotional punch, which is all the more remarkable because the story is one that movie-goers have most certainly heard before: a troubled teen discovers the sense of community and self-respect she’s robbed of at home in the company of fellow misfits and a saintly teacher. What sets Precious apart is that the obstacles the heroine has to overcome have rarely been presented as brutally, honestly, and directly as they are here. Dangerously overweight, the title character is the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of her father, and physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her mother. Barely literate, the film begins with Precious learning she is pregnant for the second time. The girl isn’t even old enough to drive.
What also sets it apart, and what makes this at times terrible tale watchable, are the excellent performances from its very unusual cast. Gabourey Sidibe, playing Precious, turns in what has to rank as one of the most memorable debut performances of all time. Paula Patton hits all the right notes as the dedicated Ms. Rain. Sherri Shepherd, bubbly co-host of The View, is unrecognizable in her role as a school secretary. Lenny Kravitz (yeah, the Lenny Kravitz) is great as a curmudgeonly nurse with a soft spot for Precious. Xosha Roquemore stands out among Precious’ classmates as the sassy Joann.
But the performance that everyone is talking about, and rightly so, is Mo’Nique’s turn as Precious’ monstrous mother, Mary. Dirty, foul-mouthed, two-faced, and unrelenting in her torment of Precious, watching this performance made me wonder what it was like being on set, let alone acting opposite her. Having made a name for herself as a smiling court jester on stand-up specials and sit-coms, this is as big a leap as Mo’Nique could ever hope to take, and she stunningly lands on two feet. In the final scene, Mary is forced to explain her actions, and the fact that Mo’Nique can almost elicit your sympathy for Mary proves just how capable an actress she is. It’s a perfect ten.
Overshadowed by Mo’Nique, but by no means less remarkable, is Mariah Carey (yes, Mariah Freakin’ Carey) as Mrs. Weiss, the tough-loving social worker who helps set Precious free when Ms. Rain can’t. De-glammed, un-tanned, and sounding unusually hoarse, MiMi holds her own against the talents opposite her, and her work in that last scene is just as solid as they come. You’ve come a long way from Glitter, baby.
Final commendations (and hopefully an Oscar nomination) should go to director Lee Daniels, for telling this story in its uncensored, unvarnished entirety; for his clever transitions, camera work, and lighting in Precious’ daydream sequences; and for coaxing these remarkable performances out of his cast.
I definitely recommend Precious. It felt good to see a good movie again.