Triumph from Tragedy

Sergio Mims Reviews “Precious”

Thursday, November 05, 2009

By Sergio Mims

CAST:    Gabourey Sidibe


Paula Patton

Mariah Carey

Sherri Sheppard

WRITTEN BY: Geoffrey Fletcher

DIRECTED BY: Lee Daniels


To call Precious a hard to watch, depressing film would be an understatement. It is relentlessly bleak, aggressively downbeat, endlessly brutal. The film’s lead character Precious Jones (played by Sidibe) suffers enough abuses and torments to qualify her for sainthood. She carries the weight of the world for all black women who have been abused, unloved, unwanted and unwelcome into society’s beauty standards. It is an ambitious film despite its faults, by a director (Lee Daniels) who, if not exactly confident in his approach to the material, shows a passion and integrity that is admirable.

Based on the popular and controversial 1997 book, Push, by Sapphire, the film is the tragic story of Precious, an obese teenager with odd features including a massive jutting jaw that makes her not unlike an Easter Island statue. Pregnant with her second child as a result of rape by her father, Precious lives a torturous existence with her cruel, physically and emotionally abusive nightmare of a mother (Mo’Nique). Friendless, constantly mocked by strangers, and with another stunning blow to her psyche yet to come, she retreats to fantasies to escape the horror film she lives,  imagining herself living a glamorous life with a light-skinned boyfriend to boot.

Eventually she winds up in a GED program taught by a tough but caring instructor (Paula Patton) and slowly through her help, Precious begins the painful journey of self-awareness, and the more difficult path of self acceptance and love.

With such a heavy, unforgiving subject it’s not surprising the film lurches into heavy handiness, a common trait in “serious” black films. Even worse, the film’s narrative structure and drive tends to wander about and falls slack at times. Visually the film is arresting with Daniels going for some experimental shifts in the color palate especially during the film’s first scenes where the mood takes on a garish, lurid, putrid feel reminiscent of the “giallo’ horror films of the Italian film director Dario Argento (Suspiria). Daniels still can’t help himself and throws in virtually every cinematic trick in the book, whether it works or not, like someone who’s trying out a movie camera for the first time.

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