PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL PUSH BY SAPPHIRE (Lee Daniels, 2009)

 

One of the theatrical posters for Precious shows a pastel drawing of the film’s title character clasping her hands in front of her body, her dark skin feeling alive inside of her beautiful red and white outfit. This image strikingly echoes that of a saint; somebody ready to deliver a message. And in Precious, that message is given loud and clear – amazingly absent from the conveniences and squeaky workings of a clichéd sentimental drama picture. The trailer of Precious gives off that vibe, but as the film plays out in its own entirety, you become immediately awestruck by its expressive, painfully raw delivery. It’s so much more than any film of its kind. It’s a stimulating examination of a woman bent on changing her own personal existence.

Claireece Precious Jones is this woman. When we begin the film we are immediately placed in the center of Claireece’s world. Living with her aggressively abusive mother Mary (Mo’Nique) and attending a school with such a crooked system that they pass along an illiterate Claireece with great grades for work that remains literally incompetent to her, Claireece is so thoroughly unhappy with her existence that she resorts to finding solace in imagining herself as a famous celebrity. It’s not until Claireece decides, in the wake of being pregnant with her second child, to attend an alternative school taught by a very admirable teacher (Paula Patton) that she slowly begins to piece together who she wants to be in the real world: the happy, well-educated mother of two children.

On paper, the story of Claireece Precious Jones sounds undeniably like an over-cooked, by-the-numbers, melodramatic, and manipulative inspirational drama. The dilemmas that cross Precious’ path can seem like the conventions of a screenwriter’s pen working to bring the protagonist down to such a degree so that she inevitably beats all the disparity and becomes a hero, but it’s all avoided. What the subtle direction of Lee Daniels, the fantastic flow of the scenes within the film, and the performances from everyone involved accomplish is creating this fascinating, believable, and incredibly moving study of human determination.

Like 2008’s best film The Wrestler, Precious doesn’t lecture its audience, but lets them experience everything that happens first-hand and free of movie customs. This isn’t a movie character we are watching, it’s the life of an honest-to-reality person. This magical sense of realism is what gives all the gritty and vain moments that happen in the film a universal significance. The viewer connects to the character; not because she’s fat, black, illiterate or even a woman, but because the moral of her journey is far more complex and involving to sum it down to such microscopic factors.

Gabourey Sidibe, the actress in the title role, is simply breathtaking to watch. Sidibe is so deep within Precious’ skin that it becomes literally impossible to see an inch of theatricality in her. Watching the actress in talk show interviews, she glows with a very bubbly, sassy personality. Precious is a horse of another color, and there isn’t a single flaw in the way Sidibe brings her to the screen. Her performance bruises with such subtle mannerisms and a very admirable sparkle of authenticity that this first-time performer very well turns out giving one of the best, and soon to be iconic, performances I have ever seen in any art form. Hyperbolic? Of course not. It’s the truth.

The supporting performances are all excellent as well. The Oscar hype surrounding Mo’Nique’s convincing turn as Precious’ mother is as deserving as can be. The actress takes what could have been a one-dimensional “monster mom” in the vein of Piper Laurie’s performance in Carrie and morphs the role into being one of the most three-dimensional, tremendously sorrowful, unbelievably chilling supporting performances of the decade. The already well-known scene in which Mo’Nique’s character Mary confesses a vastly dark and sinister moment from Precious’ past is about as heartbreaking and shattering as a scene possibly could be in a film. It will leave you feeling breathless.

As the teacher who toughens Precious into placing her foot on the right path, Paula Patton is luminous as Ms. Blu Rain. Seemingly without hesitation, Patton brings this character to life; helping us understand the nature of Ms. Rain’s in all of her compelling glory. It’s such a natural, humble performance that it helps define what truly makes a performance feel “wonderful”.

The classmates at Precious’ alternative school are also splendidly performed; the ladies taking underwritten parts, bringing veracity to them, and never once making any single one of their characters rub off as dull, flat, or stereotypical. It should be specially noted that Xosha Roquemore’s turn as the flamboyant and theatrical classmate Jo Ann is the true definition of a scene-stealing and memorable underwritten film character brought strikingly to life.

In much smaller, but just as fantastic performances: Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz, and Sherri Shepherd are forces to be reckoned with. Carey doesn’t draw attention to herself in her scenes as the blunt, yet caring, social worker Mrs. Weiss. Completely absent of makeup, Carey nails her scenes to the wall, making her first and last scenes bleed with a vivid and bold compassion for Precious. Forget Glitter, this character gives Carey the room to prove she has what it takes to be a serious actress. Kravitz is completely terrific in his small scenes as a nurse that befriends Precious and pushes her even farther in being the best mother she can be, and Shepherd is stupendously believable in her spicy performance as a secretary called Cornrows. This is the easily the best ensemble so far this year.

I have yet to come across a dramatic piece of filmmaking that is as lushly crafted and freshly original as Precious is. Without crafting the film into a cliché mess, director Lee Daniels really pierces the heart with his incredibly nurturing vision of Precious’ world. When I examined the way Daniels contrasts Precious’ real life with that of her dream world, I couldn’t help but nod my head to its legitimacy. I just wanted to find Daniels and hug him, and thank him for understanding. In an early scene where Precious gets dressed to go to school, she looks into the mirror and envisions herself as a skinny, blonde model. We all experience these thoughts. We all wish we could be somebody else in times of distress. And so does that somebody else….

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~ by jerkwoddjh on November 24, 2009.

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