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Gabourey Sidibe Shines in Inspirational True Story of ‘Precious’

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CHICAGO – The final scene of Lee Daniels’ “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” ends with a dedication that the film is for “precious girls everywhere”. The words seem likely to resonate with the legions of fans of this tragic semi-true story (based on the girls that the author met while teaching in NYC) - women and men who can identify with rising above abuse, poverty, addiction, or whatever seemingly insurmountable odds speak most personally to them.

Daniels has made a bleak, brutal, depressing urban drama that will surely be the “feel-bad, feel-good” movie of the year, a well-made film that is so dark that it can be hard to watch but that is designed to illustrate the fact that the human power to overcome adversity is stronger than the instinct to shrivel and die.

Precious (Gabourey Sidibe, left) and Ms. Rain (Paula Patton, right) in PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL 'PUSH' BY SAPPHIRE. Photo credit: Anne Marie Fox.
Precious (Gabourey Sidibe, left) and Ms. Rain (Paula Patton, right) in Precious: Based On The Novel ‘Push’ By Sapphire.
Photo credit: Anne Marie Fox/Lionsgate

Claireece “Precious” Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) is a stolid, overweight, somber, friendless teenager who has lived through an absolute nightmare since the day she was born. She is regularly abused by her mother (Mo’Nique) and is recently pregnant with her second child, both offspring the product of continuous rape by her own father since she was only an infant.

Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire
Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire
Photo credit: Lionsgate

After her second pregnancy is discovered, Precious is shuttled off to an alternate education program for young women who have shown academic potential and she starts to discover that there are people in the world willing to help her. The most important are a teacher named Ms. Rain (Paula Patton) and a welfare worker played by Mariah Carey, but she also makes friends in her class and even opens up to a cute nurse played by Lenny Kravitz. The walls between the fantasy world that Precious has constructed to escape the pain of her everyday life start to come down as she is lifted by others towards a chance at a normal life.

A lot of “Precious” plays like an urban horror movie. Mo’Nique’s unbearably evil mother could give any villain from an actual genre film of the last few years a run for their money, but the story of Precious is true and it’s the handling of the stark realism of the piece that works best. Where other filmmakers would have sugar-coated the darker elements of this semi-true story, Daniels arguably pushes the horror of the life of Claireece Jones too far in the other direction. It feels like he gives Mo’Nique one “evil mother speech” too many, pushing her character into more of a “Mommie Dearest” vein than she should be and the film plays about 15 minutes longer than it needs to. Repetition has a way of draining a story of its power, even an inspirational one like “Precious”.

But most of the power remains due to a stellar ensemble. At the forefront, Sidibe is strikingly good, a sure lock for an Oscar nomination. She understands that the power of this character is not in the melodramatic speeches of the final act but the quiet, confused moments that lead to them. The viewer literally watches Precious come out of her shell with each positive encounter and it’s a completely genuine performance that helps off-set the more flashy elements of the film like the musical fantasy numbers and the unusual, eye-catching supporting cast.

As for the alternate casting of the ensemble, not only are they all effective in their roles, particularly Mo’Nique and Carey, but one could argue that choosing unusual actors and actresses for the smaller parts is thematically relevant to a story about not judging a book by its cover. There is a girl like Precious on every block in every city, a woman who may be seen by classmates or peers as stupid or confused but hides a back story that you can’t even imagine.

The story of Precious is far-too-common. Physical and sexual abuse takes a devastating toll on the youth of the world on a daily basis. The inherent dramatic power of the story of a survivor is resonant enough to speak to precious girls everywhere but it’s how well-told that story is in Lee Daniels’ film that allows it to speak to all viewers, precious girls or not.

‘Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire’ stars Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Mariah Carey, Paula Patton, and Lenny Kravitz. It was written by Damien Paul and directed by Lee Daniels. It opens in Chicago on November 6th, 2009. It is rated R.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

By BRIAN TALLERICO
Content Director
HollywoodChicago.com
brian@hollywoodchicago.com

Miss Lexi's picture

Impressive

This movie is a truly amazing story that had me from the first scene. The films success, I have to say relies on a great story but also great actors. Everybody from the star of the film to the ladies who played the students in her class were phenomenal!

Katie's picture

Re: the film "Precious"

Heart breaking, disturbing, powerful. Great acting. Cannot stop praying to God to stop the suffering of those who had no choice to be born into such circumstances, are constantly put down,misunderstood and abused by others and only need that one helping hand to give them hope. We can all learn a lesson from this story…..we can all wake up out of our fuzzy self-driven worlds - the matrix if you will - and start to care about others. More than care - try to do something real to help. Thank God for those near and far who are doing for others as they would hope to have done for them if they were in such a horrible reality. My New Year’s resolution is to start doing!

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