Starring: Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Paula Patton
Directed by: Lee Daniels
Sometimes a movie has performances so good that you need to watch it for the acting alone. Lee Daniels’s Precious is an example of this. If the storytelling and cinematic techniques employed had been as strong as the performances, it would have been one of the best films on its decade.
The film is based around a large black teenage girl named Precious (Gabourey Sidibe). Even though she has high aspirations, she lives a horrifically depressing life. Academically, she’s strong in math but hates everything else about school. She has a child with a second one on the way. Both are the result of her being raped by her father. Her mother (Mo’Nique) is incredibly jealous that he prefers forcing himself on Precious than herself and treats Precious almost like her own personal slave. Precious is kicked out of school but recommended by the principal to enter an alternative program which will help Precious get an education. She befriends the teacher, Blu Rain (Paula Patton), who is very supportive of Precious and is the first adult who seems genuinely concerned about her future. However, with Precious, it seems that every step forward is two steps back.
There can’t be enough good things said about the performances in this movie. Gabourey Sidibe and Mo’Nique are outstanding. Mo’Nique, in particular, has one of the best performances in the history of American cinema. Her character acts like a raging lunatic but you’ll see subtle signs of fragility. She does such an amazing job at making her character’s emotional breakdown seem cerebral and alarmingly genuine. Sidibe at first seems like they hired an actress who can’t act and is just reading lines but during Precious’s dream sequences you realize just how alive this girl is and how awesome a job she’s doing convincing us that Precious has become such an empty shell of a person.
The supporting performances are top notch as well. The weakest performance of the principal players would be Patton and even that’s saying something since Patton plays her part well and nails every scene. It’s only because watching her character isn’t the emotional rollercoaster like seeing Precious or her mother fall to pieces. Mariah Carey is great as the social worker who has the gruesome task of taking on Precious’s case. It’s not that Carey is given a lot of room to steal the film with an incredibly engaging performance, but it’s so far removed from what we’ve come to expect Carey to act like (at least in public anyways). She looks and acts the farthest thing from a pop star.
The story is strong although it tries to be a little too powerful for its own good. It’s the opposite of happy-go-lucky and some people may have trouble stomaching the subject matter. It really feels like it’s too much at times in that Western audiences are used to sugar-coated movies even when the material is acidic; there’s usually a sign of hope for the troubled main characters. Precious, however, is incredibly bleak and the thoughts of sympathy for the girl turn to apathy because it feels a little overboard in regard to the context of the medium. It loses something as it tries to be more real. If it weren’t for the performances to keep the film grounded, it would have been a real mess. However, the subject matter of this film is very deep and shouldn’t be ignored; especially since Precious is a representation of the situation for many troubled teens across America.
Daniels fails the film a bit though. There are times when things start going well for Precious that the movie begins to take on the role of being like a “feel-good” movie which seems weird. An example of this is when Precious’s second child is born and the girls in her alternative class visit her in the hospital. They act like they’re her close friends but, in reality, they’re not. In fact, some of the girls don’t get along with each other. The scene does a good job at showing that even though things are incredibly messed up in Precious’s life, she feels like she’s on top of the world and surrounded by supporters. It just feels unnatural to the story. Even if it was intended to make the viewer think that Precious is vulnerable when people are nice to her, it feels more out of place than trying to subtly add to Precious’s character.
There are also continuity errors in the movie. There’s a scene where Precious goes into a restaurant and orders some chicken. When she gets the bucket of chicken, she runs out of the diner with it without paying. The thing though is that she leaves her notebook behind. As she’s walking to school laughing because she got this giant tub of free food, I’m thinking that because she forgot the notebook there, people are going to come after her for what she just did. It never happened and when she does start class that day, she has her notebook again. It feels amateurish and it really makes the movie feel like it was made by a bunch of people with good intentions but not much of a clue on what they were doing. If this was the only issue, it would be a simple nitpick, but the sum of the parts make it feel like there could have been far more polishing before screening to the masses.
Overall, though, Precious is good but not great. It’s a tough movie to get through emotionally but it’s rewarding to watch some of these actors perform and immerse themselves into these roles. It’s a bit of a shame that this movie is getting only a slightly favourable review because it could have been better. Lee Daniels’s technique and storytelling does not live up to the exceptional acting. The performances make this a captivating piece yet underwhelming piece of cinema.
This post was originally published on this site on January 9th, 2010. The original review is intact with some minor edits and grammatical changes. Additionally film stills were added for this revision.