In 1980s Harlem, the overweight, illiterate teenager, Claireece 'Precious' Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) lives with her antagonistic and oppressive mother, Mary (Mo'Nique). She is pregnant with her second child, after being raped by her mother's partner. She reports regularly to social security officer Mrs Weiss (Mariah Carey) but with little success. When she is noticed for her natural maths skills, she is invited to enroll in an alternative school run by Ms Rain (Paula Patton) in the hope that her life can head in a new direction.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
With dozens of accolades to herald its Australian theatrical release, Precious might have been in danger of high expectations it couldn't fulfil. You needn't worry, the film lives up to its early reputation as a powerful, visceral and emotionally satisfying - if sometimes harrowing - work. Based on a novel (Push, by Saphire) the film plays like a genuine, pain-filled biography, parallel in its themes and its portrayal of awful motherhood to Lori Petty's The Poker House (released here on DVD in late 2009).
The extraordinary performances lift the film out of the dungeons of depression to make it a sharp, heartwrenching portrait of urban life at its least noble. Mo'Nique delivers a shattering characterisation as Mary, the mother who lets her boyfriend abuse her daughter. The emotional storm that is unleashed provides the burning anger that she displays towards Precious in the early scenes. Her feelings about it are laid out at a later stage in one of the film's most resonant and moving scenes. Newcomer Gabby Sidibe is fascinating as Precious (ironically nicknamed by her mother), managing to convey all the pain and sadness of the character equally well in silences as in speech.
Superb supporting performances from Paula Patton as Miss Weiss, the teacher who coaxes Precious to push harder and get basic education skills, and from Mariah Carey as the social service assessor, a strong and brave performance. The other young women in Miss Weiss' class are outstanding characters, and Lenny Kravtiz makes for an engaging cameo as a sympathetic male nurse.
This isn't escapism; it's the kind of social realism that fascinates writers who in turn seduce filmmakers with their stories and their characters, steeped in the exploration of the human condition. The raw, ugly, corrosive side of humanity is treated with unflinching veracity and honesty, which is why even the thinnest ray of hope seems like a beam of light. Lee Daniels has used cinematic devices to add texture to the narrative and allowed the natural humour of circumstances and characters to seep through - where we least expect it. Lifelike, really.
Review by Louise Keller:
The subject matter is confronting and shocking but the film has a heart that is literally as precious as you can get. We find ourselves in the world of 16 year old, illiterate, abused, pregnant mother Claireece 'Precious' Jones and our journey and experience is one in which we are overwhelmingly affected. Push yourself, says the teacher at the alternate school where Precious (Gabourey Sidibe) is sent and director Lee Daniels' film spares no punches as we learn her story.
First time screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher has adapted Sapphire's novel, Push, with such grace and understanding of the complex and delicate issues involved, especially the contentious relationship between mother and child. The story that New York poet Sapphire tells is a result of her experience as a teacher in Harlem, the role assumed here by the lovely Paula Patton (Déjà vu), who adds an elegance and dignity to the role. Two extraordinary performances are guaranteed to haunt you for the rest of your life. One belongs to Gabby Sidibe as she portrays the obese black teen Precious who escapes into fantasy through her darkest hours. While being raped, abused and insulted, she imagines herself the glamorous attention on the red carpet, dancing or in an arthouse movie. The other is Mo'Nique whose award winning performance as the callous, abusive mother will turn a knife in every beating heart.
'Every day I tell myself something's going to happen,' Precious' voice over narration tells us. Her reality is a nightmare; when her mother screams 'Precious', it sounds like an expletive, not an endearment. Rather than detail the action, I prefer to urge you to see this film that vibrantly depicts a part of the vulnerable human condition that is rarely exposed so honestly. Tough, uncompromising and heart breaking - yes. But it's also extraordinary, lively, uplifting and wonderful.
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CAST: Gabourey Sidibe, Mo'Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravtiz, Barret Helms
PRODUCER: Lee Daniels, Gary Magness, Sarah Siegel-Magness
DIRECTOR: Lee Daniels
SCRIPT: Geoffrey Fletcher (novel by Sapphire)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Andrew Dunn
EDITOR: Joe Klotz
MUSIC: Mario Grigorov
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Roshelle Berliner
RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes