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Precious (2009)

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Score: 10/10

Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 49 min.

Release Date: November 20th, 2009 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Lee Daniels Actors: Mo’Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Gabourey Sidibe, Sherri Shepherd

“P

recious” boasts several of the most outstanding performances of the year, along with a relentlessly taxing plot and disquietingly unforgettable imagery. Despite plenty of depressing tragedy, the story of uncommon perseverance, rare kindness, and strong, unbending wills leads the way for the most moving, heartrending, and emotional drama in quite some time. It’s a triumphant effort that will certainly garner Oscar attention.

The film is narrated by Clareece “Precious” Jones (Gabourey Sidibe), an overweight 16-year-old girl living in Harlem in 1987. It’s a poor, dirty, crime and drug-riddled area – none of which affects Precious as much as the constant mistreatment she receives at the hands of her brutally vile mother Mary (Mo’Nique). Clareece is treated as a slave, fixing food, washing dishes, and tending to her wretched master as the worthless woman smokes, watches TV, and collects welfare. At school, Precious tries hard to blend into the background; she dreams of being normal, starring in BET videos, gracing the covers of magazines, and sporting an arm-candy boyfriend.

After the school learns of her second pregnancy, both having been caused by sexual assaults from her father (“Am I in trouble?” she asks when confronted by the principal and asked about her thoughts on the situation), she’s transferred to the alternative school “Each One Teach One.” Here she meets Ms. Blu Rain (Paula Patton), a teacher who won’t give up on Precious’ illiteracy, coaching her to stay in school through one obstacle after another. Although Rain can’t completely connect with the hardships of Precious’ life (similarly, social worker Mrs. Weiss, played by Mariah Carey, isn’t quite up to the challenge of hearing about Precious being kicked in the head by her mother while giving birth on the floor), she refuses to let constant misfortunes get in the way of hope.

Perhaps the most affecting element of the film is Precious’ refusal to demand sympathy. Plenty of moments are designed to break the heart, but Precious never once asks for help or pity. Even when she comments that others view her as “ugly black grease to be wiped away,” or that she frequently looks up to watch for a falling piano, or when suicidal thoughts cross her mind, she maintains a sense of awareness. A consciousness about her position, an acknowledgement of the potential for a brighter future, and even a hint of humor surfaces among the striking words of her narration. As things go from bad to worse, there’s a purpose to the adversity, a message about determination, and a necessity to push beyond unimaginable limits. Clareece is one of the strongest of any female character in film.

The fade-to-black scene changes grow tiresome, but the poignancy of every misfortune and every breakthrough never falters. It’s not an easy film to watch, with horrifying imagery of severe child abuse, topped by Mo’Nique’s award-worthy final monologue of further unspeakable atrocities, but it’s rewarding nonetheless. It’s dark, tear-jerking, and heavy-hitting, but no other drama this year has had such a powerfully edifying, lasting potency.

– Mike Massie

 



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