Precious

Now I am no stranger to a tough life. I was born on the mean streets of Canning Town, East London and subsequently moved to the even meaner leafy suburbs of Romford, Essex. We only had the one parking space each on my road. Times were tough. My school had a cap of 25 people per class and we could do as many extra curricular activities as we liked. Tines were hard. I remember one particular time when I was around 7 or 8, I had to endure a grueling 45 minute journey to Toys ‘R’ Us. It was so hot in that car, it was like torture. We finally arrived and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a new Leonardo from The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle’s. They sold out and I ended up getting a Raphael. How I despaired. Oh yes my friends, I thought I had it pretty rough growing up and one could argue that the song “Hard Knock Life” was written about me. That was until I saw the film Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire.

Even though I knew a little bit about Precious before I went to see it, I was simply not prepared for this film at all. The film revolves around Clareece ‘Precious’ Jones. She is an illiterate 16 year old student who is currently pregnant with her second child by her own father. Her first child has Down’s syndrome. Precious is transferred to an “alternative school” and is surrounded by students who have problems of their own. With the help of inspirational teacher Miss. Rain, played by Paula Patton, she is encouraged to express herself through her writing, eventually learning to read and write whilst learning to better herself and become a good mother. But while all this goes on, there is everything else in her life that she has to deal with. People in the street abuse her because of her size. Her mother is angry with her because of the “relationship” with her father. She feels she instigated the molestation so treats her like a piece of dirt every chance she gets and is only concerned about her own well-being. Her mother beats and also molests Precious, and at one point tries to kill Precious and her new grandson. To top it all off, she finds out that her father has died of the AIDS virus and has infected her with HIV. Still with me?

First things first, despite the bleak nature of the film, Precious is a brilliantly acted piece that invites us to look at the more horrific aspects of our society head on and watch to see how one can deal with these atrocities. In a perverse way, Precious is a story of hope, of never giving in despite the odds, and shows us that with the right encouragement, anything is possible. Rather than let the cruel hand of fate decide her outcome, all Precious wants is to be able to read and write, so she can be a good mother to her children and this says a lot about the films moral message.

The performances are mesmerizing and it is no surprise that both Gabourey ‘Gabby’ Sidibe as Precious, and Mo’Nique as her mother, Mary, have been nominated for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress respectively at the Oscars. Sidibe is wonderfully poignant as Precious, who has the weight of a world resting squarely on her face. Her weight will be brought up at most opportunities no doubt, but it is her body language and facial expressions that really allow you to feel her pain. She is like a cooped up ball of rage that is just waiting to explode, and it isn’t until one of the final scenes where she finally releases all this pent up aggression that you realize how good Sidibe is.

And no matter what you might think of her Oscar credentials compared to some other actresses, there is no doubt that in this role, Mo’Nique is brilliant. She is just so evil and disturbing as the mother. Every glance, every puff of her cigarette, every sneer just oozes hatred. Even though she just stood back as her partner raped and impregnated her daughter, and even though she beats and molests her own child, Mo’Nique brings a tiny amount of vulnerability to her performance that makes you feel sorry for Mary, if that is at all possible. There is a part of her character that let’s you realize that she is just as disturbed and upset as anyone else in the film. In some perverse way, she feels as if she is the victim and it was her daughter that took away her man. She is actually jealous that he wanted to have sex with her own daughter and that he gave her more children. Every time she looks at one of her grandchildren, she can’t help but feel hurt and rejected. For a split second, you too can almost feel her pain and feel sorry for her. This culminates in the final scene in which Maria Carey’s caseworker mediates a meeting with Mary and Precious. You’ll have to watch this scene for yourself, but I think it should win Mo’Nique the best supporting actress award. It is quite brilliant and you do feel for her. But then you take a step back, listen to what she is actually saying and remember for all her misgivings, she is still no better than the father as she molests and beats own her child. And after seeing how easily she can change her personality to deceive the welfare office, you fail to believe that anything she is saying could be real and her emotions are nothing but a lie.

Another positive to this film is the directing from Lee Daniels. I really appreciated what he did with the material, and how he tried to be original and extremely creative with his directing. Some might say it was flashy and over the top, but I thought it fit perfectly…but then I am a bit of a sucker for great visuals. For example, during Precious’ rape sequence, it could have been so easy to so easy to raise the camera to the sky to not get too involved. But instead we travel inside Precious’ mind and escape with her as she tries to blot out what is taking place. She imagines she’s a movie star signing autographs, or on-stage singing. Or at one point, beamed into a TV show where her mother speaks softly and lovingly. It doesn’t feel like flashy camera work for the sake of it. In only a few shots, and without showing too much, I thought the rape was one of the most harrowing scenes in the film. Precious wants to escape all her harrowing moments during the course of the film into highly stylized reality. So Lee Daniels takes us with her highly stylized way too. That’s not too say that the whole film is like that. There are certain moments where it almost feels like you are watching a documentary. I felt like Lee Daniels let the material dictate his style. His use of music is also another positive I took from the film. There are so many heart-breaking moments that are juxtaposed with hauntingly melodic childish tunes, it’s hard to know how you are supposed to feel.

One of the few negatives of Precious might be the fact that it is a little too onerous, or may seem over the top and unrealistic. You do get a sense watching the film, that there might just be a bit too much going on. She is raped by her dad, she is molested by her mother, has two children by her father, is beaten by her mother, is overweight and the list goes on. The author of the original novel “Push”, has stated that she was once a social worker, so put several stories into Precious, which is why it might seem a little full on for the sake of it. There were a few times a found myself thinking “whatever next?”. But that isn’t necessarily to say that these things don’t exist in one person’s life. Every one of her problems are a direct result of her fathers actions. So even though Precious’ situation might not be a common occurrence, it is by no means implausible.

You could talk for hours about Precious, with several other issues arising that could warrant essays by themselves. But ultimately it is a film which presents it’s viewer with a harsh look at a cruel and alien world. And if the film does feel over the top, or at times like it has become a little too difficult to watch, so what? Surely film as an art form has a duty to not only produce romantic tosh with pretty people (*COUGH* Valentines Day *COUGH*!!) or films that are made purely for money and the sequels (*COUGH* AVATAR *COUGH*!!!) but to challenge and stimulate debate. Surely film is there so we can look into the lives of others and be confronted head on with issues and subjects we wouldn’t necessarily get involved in. It forces us to have an opinion. Despite the harsh world Precious inhabits and the terrible life she leads, the film is still an allegory for hope. It’s about striving to succeed despite all the odds. It shows us that no matter what obstacles are put in front of you, you can still succeed. And if Clareece ‘Precious’ Jones can be positive and try to strive for a better life, surely anyone else out there can too.

Categories: Film, Reviews

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