Precious (II) (2009)
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One aspect of the film that deserves all the praise in the world is its cast, specifically the performances of its lead actresses and the surprising and unexpected quality of these performances considering the particular thespians involved. First and foremost, we have the breakout role of Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe, portraying the overweight, twice-pregnant and illiterate protagonist, Precious. The performance is a revelation both because of how convincingly Sidibe reacts to and interacts with her brutal day-to-day existence, but also because of how completely removed it is from the first-time actresses' actual life. It's always impressive to see a performer convincingly convey difficult and profound emotions that they probably would never feel themselves in their real lives, but for a first-time actress to convey these emotions is particularly incredible. Precious' life is populated by three prominent adult characters; two of which see past her daunting exterior and genuinely want to help her, and one who does the exact opposite. Mariah Carey plays a social worker who takes a personal interest in Precious' case and, in the film's most dramatically gut-wrenching scene, makes a genuine attempt to bridge the gap between the teenager and her monstrous mother. Carey has only ever acted in two or three other films, including the atrocious vanity project "Glitter", but in this role, she de-glams, puts on a convincing and raspy accent and actually manages to deliver a surprisingly well rounded and convincing performance. Paula Patton plays another alternate mother figure in Precious' life, her teacher at her alternate school who takes a particularly personal interest in Precious, to the point of letter her stay at her home when she has nowhere else to go. Unlike Mariah Carey, Patton never did anything to totally remove my confidence in her acting abilities, but then again, she's never actually given what can really be considered a "good" performance, which is what makes her tender and genuine turn in this film most impressive. But the scene-stealer is without a doubt Mo'Nique, probably one of my LEAST favorite "comedic" performers who totally redeems herself and manages to deliver a frighteningly convincing performance, incredibly transforming herself into Precious' villainous, sadistic and purely evil mother. It is an incredible and difficult and extremely brave performance, and is even more impressive considering that it's coming from the star of "Phat Girlz".
The performances are rich and incredible enough to hold up dramatic scenes, but not the narrative as a whole, which, as I mentioned before, suffers from a series of bad directorial choices made by director Lee Daniels. The film's biggest flow is emotional inconsistency: in an attempt to portray Precious' inner feelings, Daniels injects strangely conceived fantasy sequences at key dramatic moments in which Precious imagines herself as a glamorous and famous personality. While the intention of these sequences is clear, their abruptness just totally jolts the audience out of the emotional flow of the film, and they just seem out of place. For a similar reason, Daniels chooses to set grim and dramatic scenes to oddly inappropriate songs and musical cues, which once again just feel forced and out of place, and interrupt the emotional resonance of the scenes. Other than that, the film just seems poorly done at times, or simply unfinished: the cinematography is inconsistent and often features zooms and loss of focus that don't feel like stylistic choices but rather just like mistakes. In addition, the editing is quite disjointed at times, and many cuts interrupt musical cues in the middle or otherwise are just so sudden and jumbled that they completely ruin the dramatic flow. Finally, I just felt that while many separate scenes work wonderfully and are emotional and genuinely gut-wrenching, they are just too loosely connected for the film to actually carry a consistent dramatic arc throughout, as it jumps between Precious' brutal home life to her newfound support in her classroom to her day-to-day activities to her inner fantasies. For example, a major dramatic reveal near the end of the film end sup completely ignored and thus irrelevant to the dramatic arc. As I mentioned earlier, the performances are absolutely spectacular, but the inconsistencies in the film's tone and its jumbled and odd editing take away from what otherwise could have been a genuinely affective film.
As brutal and emotionally draining as it is, the story is at times lacking. Perhaps the flashbacks and fantasies are a bit too much, so that you're not always sure of the reality of what you're watching. You have to like Gabourey Sidibe's performance as Precious. Her absolutely unfeeling reactions to her mother struck me as the sort of reaction an abused child would have. For an inexperienced newcomer, her performance was great. An Oscar nomination? I'm not sure to be honest. One of the biggest problems I had with her was that I often had trouble understanding what she was saying. Maybe it was the character - Precious being uneducated and abused, so she mumbled a lot as if she really didn't want to be heard. Perhaps there's some reality to that, but it's frustrating from the perspective of watching the movie and wanting to hear the dialogue. I thought the confrontation with her mother in the social worker's office was well done. It seemed the logical climax to the movie as the mother is confronted with the evils that happened to Precious at her hands and at the hands of her boyfriend. I loved the fact that Precious walked away and left her behind. I was also a little confused, though. She walked away with 2 kids - one with Down's Syndrome? As she said herself, she's still only reading at a junior high school level. Sure. "Then high school. Then college." She has dreams. That's great. But she's not living in the "then" - she's living in the "now." How is she going to care for two kids? As the movie ended, I was worried about them.
It really is a brutal, emotionally wrenching movie. It's not a movie I would watch twice. It's full of horrendous abuse and some of the most sustained and foulest language I've ever heard in a movie. It deserves a lot of credit. But it's also not great.
The story takes us on the journey of this monstrously mistreated young female from near destruction at the hands of her violent, hyper-narcissistic mother (Mo'Nique) and her rapist father (who has impregnated her twice by age 16) to a rescue with the help of a frayed but still somewhat viable network of dedicated social workers who help her gain literacy and independence from her wicked elders.
Interspersed with the depressing realities of ghetto life is the constant flow of Precious's glamorous daydreams, the little fires generated by her undying spark of life, her only opening toward beauty and light, imagining herself wrapped in beautiful gowns, doted on by handsome men, cheered by adoring crowds on the red carpet; wealth, fame, as she knows them from the pop culture that is her only mental nourishment. For her mother and for herself, life is an endless round of TVfoodarguments-TVfood-arguments. In their dark and dingy apartment, practically the only illumination is from the TV screen.
Mo'Nique's performance is revelatory on multiple levels, down to the bone of the human condition and certainly up to the highest screen standards. It is bravura work. Sibide's performance is technically masterful but much of her effectiveness comes from her imposing physical presence; this is not meant to detract one iota from her acting skills it is just a fact. The excellent supporting performances include a pleasing turn from singer Mariah Carey as a down-to-earth social worker with a playful personality; it's an inventive characterization. But the whole cast excels and they should be honored for great ensemble work, especially the young ladies in the special education classroom.
Flaws? The pacing seems to slow down unnecessarily toward the end and Precious's educational progression seems a bit confused and not completely fleshed out, but this is minor stuff. This is a very inspired work of art by someone with a fresh vision. It is not preaching morals or slogans, just revealing truth.
Clareece "Precious" Jones (Gabby Sidibe) is a fat 16-year-old illiterate black girl that lives in Harlem with her welfare-dependent, abusive mother (Mo'Nique). She has one autistic daughter (who lives with her grandmother) and is pregnant with another child, both from her mother's boyfriend, who is also Clareece's father. Her mother repeatedly tells her how stupid and worthless she is while other kids taunt her for her obesity. She has become hardened and heartless, lacking education and social skills. She spends her time cooking for her mother and fantasizing unrealistically about a glamorous life. She would be easy to dismiss. Based on a novel by Sapphire, this is some pretty bleak stuff.
But good things can happen in this world and Precious is blessed with an indomitable spirit that refuses to accept the negative reinforcement that bombards her. Through her efforts, and despite resistance from her mother, she finds an alternative school. It is staffed by Miss Rains, a caring teacher (Paula Patton) and classmates who, although anything but perfect, possess enough compassion to become supportive friends. It turn out that the world can be a pretty good place.
First-time actress Gabby Sidibe gives a powerful, emotive performance. Equally good is talented actresses Mo'Nique, who is almost frightening as Precious' mother, and Patton as the compassionate teacher. Lenny Kravitz and Mariah Carey also have minor roles, giving the film a little star power.
Daniels conveys a Harlem existence that is profane, hard-edged and brutal, but with rays of humanity and compassion that leave room for hope. It is at once both a message to the poor in spirit not to despair, and to the rest of us make the time and effort to reach out where we can. Push is an inspiring message that will fill you with optimism and joy.
Sundance Moment: When asked about her getting the role, Sidibe said that she had some acting experience--like a non-speaking role in a college production. Pretty funny! She said her friends encouraged her to audition because she "fit the profile." She also said she relied heavily on "Mr. Daniels" for direction. Daniels said there were parts of making the movie that were hard on him emotionally--like directing Precious to eat, or instructing her peers to bully her.
Precious is about Claireece 'Precious' Jones, an overweight girl who has already had a child with Down's Syndrome from when she was raped by her father. Her mother constantly abuses her and she's already pregnant with her second baby. When she gets kicked out of school and is forced to go to an alternative school to help her get her GED, she realizes that there may actually be hope for her.
The acting is easily the most important and best thing during Precious. Newcomer Gabourey Sidibe will absolutely be famous and definitely deserves the Best Actress Oscar. Her performance was so real and searing that you're just forced to sympathize with her. Other cast includes Lenny Kravitz, Mariah Carey, and Mo'Nique who are all unfamiliar to the genre, but still perform very well. Mo'Nique gives a really great performance as the abusive mother Mary and should definitely win an Oscar as well. Mariah Carey's performance is a bit dry, but her character is not very major. Paula Patton, the actress who plays Blu Rain, Precious' teacher, gives a believable and loving performance as well. Also, the girls in Precious' class are all great. I actually was sitting behind them at the screening and got the them to sign my Playbill. They were all very excited.
The crowd seemed to love the movie. At Toronto, people laughed at serious parts, but the New York audience ate it up. People clapped for Precious, cried at the right parts, and even gasped at the screen over some of the violence. The violence is often so abrupt that it feels as if you too could have just been hit over the head with a pan. Everybody was so engaged in watching it even Gabourey Sidibe herself who had already seen it three times. Even she had trouble watching some parts. At the end of the movie, everyone in the audience stood up and gave Lee Daniels and his cast about a ten minute standing ovation. Everybody loved the film. Precious is definitely one of the best movies of the year and will definitely at least be nominated for Best Picture if not win it. It may be a bit bleak, but Precious gives me and everybody else hope. Lee Daniels wrote a quotation at the end of the movie that said "For precious girls everywhere". This is what really put the icing on the cake. Precious is a magnificent and disturbing movie.
The film is raw with the material and doesn't really hold any punches. Lee Daniels second feature film shows vast improvement over the messy Shadowboxer starring Cuba good Jr. His grasp of the material and dedication to have the story be told is evident in his attention to translate the novel to screen. Daniels has put together a cast that care about the subject matter and the story as much as he does and is surrounded by the talent that is needed to pull it off.
Gabourey Sidibe is Precious, the troubled teen wanting more out of life. She shines in her first starring role and it's no walk in the park for her. The role demanded talent and Sidibe delivers what is needed. Of course the one who stands out the most is Mo'Nique earning herself a much deserved Oscar for her role as the abusive and sloth ridden mother. Her confrontation with her daughter after the birth of the second child is intense and will have you holding your breath in fear for the safety of the child.
Precious is a film that is driven by a strong story and an emotional cast that cares about the work they are doing. It's a glimmer of hope that keeps the story moving in a world that is hard edged and usually leads nowhere. It's not a relatively long film, but I did find myself checking my watch every now and then and some bits in the film happen without much clarification. Where did that one white boy come from in her Each One Teach One class? In any event, the final product is a good film with a message about hope and Tyler Perry finally has his name attached to something good in his career (Star Trek not included).
The movie starts with Claireece "Precious" Jones the lead character, in the school where she has been suspended as she is pregnant with her second child at the age of 16. Precious lives in a world of her own though she is living in a dreadful condition. She forgets her misery by disguising it with her dreams of having a charming boyfriend and living a celebrity life. The movie depicts her struggle to deliver the second child, the realization of the purpose of life and living it on her own terms.
The summary of the movie is "Life is what we define it to be and not what we are made to live".
At the centre is (worthy Oscar tip) Gabby Sidibe as the eponymous Clareece Precious Jones. The fact that her middle name is not some sort of irony lever is a testament not only to Lee Daniels but also to her iron performance. It's also impressive that the satellite cast act with the character she is digging out (yes, even Mariah Carey, an amazing metamorphosis). It would be so simple and safe for everyone to treat Clareece as the fat girl whose acts garner pity and pathos. That is not this film, not by a very long way.
The film achieves so much. It's relentlessly warm and human - a middle- class audience, such as the one I was in at the 53rd London Film Festival, doesn't need to nod sagely and side with the protagonists as abstract figures representing a life of alternative fortune. There's too much to enjoy and synchronise with. Consequently, when the bad things happen they are spasm-in-the-auditorium shocking. Brilliant. 8/10