Starring: Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz
Director: Lee Daniels
Writer(s): Geoffrey Fletcher, Sapphire (novel)
Cinematography: Andrew Dunn
Original Score: Mario Grigorov
Running Time: 110 Mins.
Director Lee Daniels is no stranger to more controversial and hard-hitting fare, having produced both The Woodsman and Monster’s Ball he approaches similarly shocking and taboo topics in his second directorial effort, Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire, to give it its full title. Precious deals with incest, teenage pregnancy, parental abuse, child abuse and those dealt the blow of living in the slums of Harlem, on their own they are subjects that elicit not the happiest of storylines, bring them all together however and you would be forgiven for expecting one of the most depressing times possible in a cinema auditorium!
Alas Daniels manages to tell the tale of Clarice “Precious” Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) from an inspirational point of view, rather than an extended exercise in controversy and depression. As if by this stage you hadn’t realised, it is to Precious that all of the horrific events occur, and on the most blatant level Daniels attempts to overcome the more harrowing episodes by flashing to fantasy sequences that see the leading lady, who is obesely overweight (naturally!), as a film star, pop star and model in her flights of fancy, this you see id precious means of escape, of dealing with her hardship.
However important it remains that these sequences exist in terms of banishing, not only Precious, but the audience away from the unbearable events it seems the most heavy handed aspect of the film and is often at odds with the rest of the pacing, perhaps despite rather than because of the subject matter you might find yourself slightly cringing at these points especially when the inspirational moments of the film that are rooted in reality prove so effective. Performances are uniformly excellent and most importantly realistic, the lack of big names only adds to the feeling and obviously, as is always the case with unknowns, authenticity. Even the two bigger names are masked and largely unrecognisible, Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz you would not expect to see in a film of this weight and pulling their punches as well as the rest.
Which brings me to Mo’Nique, as Precious mother Mo’Nique is truly a monster and one scene in particular literally turned my stomach, though these kind of hard hitting and shocking roles are usually reserved for award’s season this is one that is fully deserving of the recognition. Especially as the film progresses and Mo’Nique turns a potentially two dimensional monster of a woman into someone you would never expect to be able to feel any sympathy for.
That said the feeling I was left with was one of slight admiration, admiration of performance, direction, tone, and the ability to turn something that has the makings for one of the bleakest filmic experiences ever into an inspirational tale, but for all those plus points Precious can’t shakke the feeling that it is trying to be a worthy film that exists simply to preach about the hardships of life and how they can be overcome, and the final nail in that particular coffin of criticism comes on the films final third as one to many harsh circumstances are thrust upon Precious and she is diagnosed with as HIV positive, and in this moment sadly the credibilty of the film became lost, in the same way that one too many quirks Richard Kelly film loses me, a great shame as given a little less excess and more focus Precious would have been deserving of its awards attention.
Excess is everything, and in Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire the quandries faced by one person can only be to such an extent before they become unbelieveable and lose credibility, thankfully this doesn’t tarnish some excellent acting that manages to transcend the term but the final feeling is one of disbelief, and not in a good, or for that matter, harrowing, way!