Why Precious is Important (Movie Review)
After I agreed to write a review for the movie Precious I began to wonder if I’m the right person to do so. I say this because I am by no means a big movie-goer. In fact Precious is only the third movie I’ve seen this year — He’s Just Not That Into You and Hangover were the other two.
This piece is part review and part summary of the movie, so if you have not seen Precious but plan to do so then I recommend you stop reading now and come back after you have seen the movie; then you can see if you agree with both my recount of the story and my review. Enjoy and feel free to leave a comment!
I first heard of the movie Precious while watching an episode of Oprah, where I learned that she was one of the movie’s executive producers — along with Tyler Perry, and that Mo’Nique and Mariah Carey are in the film. When I saw the trailer I knew I needed to see the movie because I wanted more — I wanted to know Precious’ story. A few days later a friend sent a group email via Facebook suggesting a girls-night-out to see the movie, followed by drinks. Just prior to seeing the movie I learned that it was based upon a book called Push by Sapphire. It seems that so many people I know had read the book, yet, I had never heard of it and I like to think that I’m in the know when it comes to pop culture. Maybe it is because the book was not mainstream, and I can now see that being the case.
The movie is the story of a teenage girl, Precious, played by newcomer Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe, who is the victim of incest at the hands of both her father AND mother. The sexual abuse by her father produces two children. Her mother, Mary, brilliantly portrayed by Mo’Nique, sexually, verbally and emotionally abuses Precious — telling her at every turn that she is fat, ugly, and stupid; and that she is nothing and will never be anything. Mary seems to find it necessary to remind Precious that she has gotten pregnant twice by “her man,” as if Precious was somehow engaged in a consensual sexual relationship with her drug addict father. When we first meet Precious she has already had one child by her father and is pregnant with the second. She lives in an apartment that is perpetually dark, literally and figuratively, where she is at once treated savagely like a piece of meat by her father and the live-in help by her mother. Precious dreams of a better life for herself, which in her mind means that she is White with long flowing blonde tresses, and the man who loves her is her White teacher who is going to leave his White wife so the two of them can live happily ever-after. (It would take another article to explain the significance of this to those who do not understand it. I will leave that to someone else on another day.)
Sadly, Precious’ reality is that she is ostracized seemingly by the world — moving about it in a shuffling manner, communicating with mumbled words, and viewing it through squinted eyes. Precious’ value to her mother is that she cooks and cleans, and Mary makes money off of Precious and her first child in the form of welfare.
Things begin to change for Precious when she is kicked out of school because of her pregnancy and is sent to an alternative school. It is there where she begins to come out of her shell and forms a relationship with her teacher and the other students. It is there where we are given a glimpse into her soul, where there is light in her eyes and where she speaks with clarity. It is there where she finds love and a sense of belonging. When Precious returns home following the birth of her second child, Mary snaps, as if the sight of Precious and her newborn child are a reminder of the alienation of her husband’s affection and in a monstrous rage she tosses them from the apartment. It is at that moment when Precious decides to raise her children (she must first regain custody of her first child who lives with her grandmother) and give them the kind of life and love she never knew from her own parents but that she found with her classmates and her teacher, who along with her partner, opens her home to Precious and her child.
Just when you think the story of Precious will have one of those typical happy ever-after endings, she is dealt another blow. Mary arranges a meeting with Precious through her social worker, played by Mariah Carey, who is so stripped down (no makeup, mousy brown hair both on her head and upper lip!) that you forget you are looking at Mariah Carey. Mary comes to tell Precious that her father has died from AIDS and suggests to Precious that she may want to get tested. Mary acknowledges that she herself did not get tested because she and her husband never had anal sex. (Wow!) There are several scenes in the movie that are hard to watch to the point where I realized that each time there was such a scene I was holding my breath while tears streamed down my face — unable to comprehend or relate to the hate that I was witnessing, yet knowing there are children the world over who live this reality day in and day out.
Director Lee Daniels must have realized that no one could sit through two hours of horror so he allows us an opportunity to escape the pain along with Precious during her day-dreaming scenes, which were quite funny. Life is often a happy place inside of Precious’ head. Because of the way the movie is sequenced, I found myself going from tears to laughter to anger to laughter to tears and back to laughter. After Mary explained to the social worker, in front of Precious, how she could sit idly by while Precious’ father repeatedly forced himself upon her child, Precious got up and, for the first time walked away from Mary for the last time. Mo’Nique’s acting in this scene is so powerfully delivered with shades of vulnerability, hurt, disappointment and confusion that you almost forgot she is a monster and begin to feel sorry for her and think of her as a victim too. Almost. The movie ends with Precious learning that she is indeed HIV positive, but she is resolved to forge ahead and build a new life for herself and her children. And that’s how the movie ends.
To some it was a happy ending — triumph over adversity. However, the ending left me deeply disturbed, as I repeatedly asked “why did she have to be HIV positive?” Knowing that Precious will die and not see her children grow up left me terribly sad.
Although there is nothing about this movie with which I can personally identify, in the end I was happy that I saw it as it does serve as a reminder that one can overcome adversity with the love and support of mankind, and that we all have a responsibility to help the least of those among us.
The acting in this movie is superb. Gabby Sidibe IS Precious. I cannot imagine that anyone else would do this character justice. Mo’Nique earned her bona fides — she is now more than a comedienne, and Mariah Carey certainly made up for the disaster that was Glitter. I predict Oscar nominations in the acting categories for Sibide and Mo’Nique, and another for adapted screenplay. I would be stunned with anything less. Maybe blackgirlgrown will invite me back at Oscar time!
By the way, I was so emotionally exhausted following the movie that I bailed on drinks with the girls. I just wanted to go home and “be still” and comfort myself with the knowledge that I have been loved and wanted from day one.