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FILMS: Precious (15)

Charlene McCauley adores the rough ride to redemption

Published on February 1st 2010.


FILMS: Precious (15)

SEXUAL and domestic abuse, incest, and AIDS are not often top of the list in Hollywood films, but then again, Precious is not the average Hollywood blockbuster. Based on the book ‘Push: A Novel by Sapphire’, Precious is as bittersweet as films go, lashings of disturbing antidotes mixed with the dreams of a 16-year-old girl who wants to be somebody.

Despite Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz both having roles, their appearances are muted and play second fiddle to the unknown actors who take this film to the next level. Here the story tells itself, rather than it all being about the triple A-lister.

Set in late 1980s Harlem, illiterate Clarisse Precious Jones is pregnant with the second baby her father has given her, and her narcissistic mother is hellbent on making Precious’s life a living misery because she “think your daddy love you more cos’ he given you more babies than me, motherfucker?” The scowl that is permanently etched onto the teenager’s face tells of the humiliation, betrayal and pain she has had to endure from both parents; a father whose on-camera appearances are mercifully kept at a minimum, and a mother who you quickly detest and, irrationally perhaps, wish to be dead. Inside a manky, cat-ridden apartment, the mother slobs, insults, abuses and masturbates, while Precious fries pigs’ feet, is abused, told she’s “stoopid”, but dreams like any other teenage girl.

It’s little wonder director Lee Daniels, who produced the Oscar-winning Monster’s Ball, is tipped to win an Academy Award. Whereas other misery tales live up to their name, Daniels doesn’t shy away from the harrowing, but breaks the film up with Precious’s innocent fantasies, one of the few places left uncorrupted, and a place where she finds solace in the darker times, such as her father raping her, and in lighter times, like dreaming of her teacher asking her out. It is these dreams that see her through, tell her to “fuck the bad days”, and give her the determination to “get educated”, so she can read to her unborn baby; the first of which lives with her grandmother, has Downs Syndrome, and who she innocently called ‘Mongo’ because the hospital nurse called it a ‘mongolian’.

The shaky camera, the panning in-and-out make it more of a docu-film than a slick Hollywood movie, which would be all wrong anyway. Precious is on a journey, therefore for the 109 minutes, the audience is taken on a ride. When the mother throws the second newborn baby, Abdul, on the floor, you gasp at the sheer horror of it, when she is able to read “A Day at the Shore”, you smile, and when Precious wallops a girl over the head for calling her fat, you laugh.

Through education the Harlem teenager finds the route to escape the brutality that life has so far given her, and through an inspirational teacher, she realises that love isn’t marred by exploitation, but can be pure, like the love she has for her babies, or the love they feel for her. The permanent scowl that told of a painful story slowly gives way to a smile, that says she might be down, but Precious is certainly not out.

The nuances employed add to the ‘realness’ of it: at the start you pity the illiterate, obese, abused girl, by the end, you feel like you know her, therefore know at the end of the film, she’s going to do something with her life. Gabourey Sidibe, who plays Precious, gives the fictional character her all, takes her away from being a two-dimensional victim, and makes her somebody. Despite Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz both having roles, their appearances are muted and play second fiddle to the unknown actors who take this film to the next level. Here the story tells itself, rather than it all being about the triple A-lister.

‘Precious (Based on the novel by Sapphire)’ is a emotional film that zaps the ignorance out of you, and in its places fills you with hope and belief that circumstances are not the be-all-and-end-all. Lee Daniels deserves an Oscar for making a personal tale relevance to us all, and one that teaches us a lesson, and hopefully teaches his contemporaries a lesson on how to make contemporary taboo-breaking films, whose themes are so often brushed under the carpet, both in real-life and by Hollywood studios.

Rating: 9/10

Precious (15) is at the Cornerhouse, Oxford Road, Manchester and at FACT Picturehouse, Wood Street, Liverpool.

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