Film Review: Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire

A disturbing masterwork of human survival.

Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire has no bounds. It's a disturbing, overwhelming story of one Harlem girl's merciless degradations. An overwhelming, masterful drama, Lee Daniels’ film won audience awards at both the Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals.

It's a hard-forged film with a storyline so grim and abhorrent—a 16-year-old black girl has been impregnated twice by her father—that marketing will be tough. However, the film's crystalline performances, including a bravura performance from Mo'Nique, should propel word of mouth. Solid supporting turns from Mariah Carey, Paula Patton and Lenny Kravitz will also help commercially.

In this inner-city horror story, newcomer Gabourey Sidibe plays Clarice, a pathetic ghetto girl enduring more personal plagues than Job. Called "Precious," she's illiterate, overweight, and emotionally abused by her deadbeat mother (Mo'Nique). Slow in school, Precious wallows in junior high at 16 and is shuffled through the system to a "special" program.

Shoving her boxcar frame into the bleak makeshift classroom, Precious confronts the first ray of help in her life, a charismatic teacher called Blu Rain (Paula Patton). With Blu Rain's feisty prodding, Precious slogs toward her GED.

Precious sustains herself through intermittent fantasies. She envisions herself as the worshipful object of mass media's most vapid idealizations: a red-carpet superstar and, most shockingly, a blonde-haired/blue-eyed white beauty queen. That weird warp is darkly ironic; from the outside it seems the ultimate degradation to Precious. Yet, those oddly inspired flights are the sole windows of self-esteem and sustenance for this degraded girl.

Damien Paul's edgy and effervescent screenplay propels us into the inner recesses of primitive survival. It's a magnificent distillation, both succinct and eruptive. Director Daniels sagely navigates the story from Precious' cavernous inner world through her synaptic flashes of fantasy that momentarily allow her to transcend her personal hell.

As Precious, Sidibe is superb, allowing us to see the inner warmth and beauty of a young woman who, to her world's cruel eyes, might seem monstrous. As Precious' hideous mother, Mo'Nique is cruelty incarnate. It's an astonishingly powerful performance.

In a striking non-star turn, Carey is credible as a veteran social worker who is jarred by Precious' plight. As the effervescent school teacher, Patton exudes goodness but sagely reveals her character's inner liabilities, while Kravitz is low-key perfect as an empathetic nurse's aide.

Technical contributions are magnificently forged. Highest praise to cinematographer Andrew Dunn for the gothic compositions and editor Joe Klotz for the kinetic cuts.
-Nielsen Business Media