Set in the late 80’s in Harlem America, Precious follows the story of Clarice Precious Jones (played superbly in her debut role by Gabourey Sidibe) and her abusive relationship with her parents, in particular her mother (played by Mo’nique). We learn in the opening moments of the film that Precious is pregnant with her second child at the age of 16. The circumstances are later revealed, Precious’s father has savagely raped her, fathering her two children. Along side this, Precious gets expelled from school and is recommended to an alternative school, where she learns to read and write under the watchful and encouraging eye of her teacher Blu Rain (Paula Patton). We also see Precious opening up reluctantly to her care worker Ms. Weiss (Mariah Carey).
Precious is unflinching and confrontational in it’s representation of Precious’s life. Her mother abuses her, verbally and physically. The verbal abuse is horrific, claiming she wished she’d aborted Precious. Precious’ mother constantly beats her down, claiming to have her best interest at heart, the ability to claim welfare for Precious and Precious’ child, Mongo (short for Mongoloid) her down syndrome baby. Mo’nique plays the role terrifically, she’s terrifying, she’s ugly, she’s completely irrational. She truly is a vile human being. But Precious, carries on. The turning point in the film for Precious to escape this prison is when her mother deliberately drops her 3 day old baby and attacks her, Precious runs off, with just her child, and her mother then tries to throw a TV set at her.
Amongst all the ugliness and torment in Precious’ life, she finds an escape in her imagination. She imagines herself rich and famous, aadored by everyone, she has a loving boyfriend and she is happy. These scenes are bright and vivid, contrasting against the drab and dark life she really leads. Similarly to the films trajectory, in the swathes of abuse, the neglect, the hurt, the message of the film is pure, simple and untainted by despairing reality. Precious actively changes her life, actively deals with her current situation to make her and her children’s lives better. Despite being advised to give her children up so she can succeed at school, she continues studying whilst caring for her children… and succeeds.
Gabourey Sidibe was found for the role after a long series of auditions, and despite having no previous acting experience, she is one of the most refreshing, talented young actors of recent years. It would be too easy to dismiss her, she’s the polar opposite of skinny, glamorous Hollywood white girl, but there is something about her which dominates the film, her character, her mannerisms, her ability to fill what is arguably a pretty ugly role and somehow convey positivity is incredible.
Precious is an ultimately uplifting film, about hope and determination. In the face of everything Precious, motivated by the desire to become better than her mother and become successful in her own skin, overcomes a horrific childhood. She finds love in everything she does, her writing, her teacher, her friends at the alternative school, and in a pivotal moment, a male nurse on the labour ward; the only male character in the film to show her any sort of kindness unconditionally, he shows her respect as a woman and as a mother.
Upon it’s release, the director Lee Daniels stated that he was embarrassed for the film to be screened at Cannes; he said that he didn’t want to exploit and create a negative view of African Americans. The film went on to be nominated for and win many prestigious awards and appears on many critics top 10 film lists of 2009. The closing card of the film dedicates Precious to ‘all the Precious girls everywhere’. Precious doesn’t paint African Americans in a negative light, it shows that some segments of society are cruel, but anyone of any race, can come through with determination and love to be a better person. Precious is very much a girl’s film, and should be dedicated as such.
P.S – it took me a while to work out that the social worker was Mariah Carey!
- MOVIE: Precious (jennythegirlintheworld.com)