Precious (2009). D: Lee Daniels. DP: Andrew Dunn & Darren Lew. W: Geoffrey Fletcher (based on the 1996 novel, Push, by Sapphire). Starring: Gabby Sidibe/Mo’Nique/Paula Patton/Mariah Carey/Lenny Kravitz/Sherri Sheppard/Stephanie Amdujar/Chyna Layne/Amina Robinson/Xosha Roquemore/Angelic Zambrana.
Every Oscar season a low-budget passion peace explodes through media attention, the debut of new no-profile talent, and a human interest angle that astounds mainstream movie audiences. And this season is just like all the rest as cinemas are embracing Daniels’ second feature credit, the story of Precious.
Set in the 1980s, Precious was shot in a mere five weeks and precociously follows sixteen year old Claireece Precious Jones as she is suspended from her Harlem high school while being pregnant with her second child by her own father. Similar to the novel, the film cuts up the narrative into vignettes or chunked sequences. With constant awareness of the hand-held camera capturing the action, the film eventually suffers from this disjointedness as this effect comes off more as directorial confusion rather than purposeful rhythm.
What does maintain any sense of rhythm to the film is Sidibe’s Precious who, as a newcomer, still has her endearing coating of reality that will give extra punches to audiences. Audiences will also fall in love with Patton’s Ms. Rain and her alternative class, who help to structure the film. Yet, once again, the disjunctions in the filmmaking hurt the film’s potential as certain performances are cut too short or are allowed to wander to far. What is certain is that Carey makes the defining performance of the film as Mrs. Weiss and provides an excellent foil to Mo’nique’s raging Mary who is equally unforgettable.
And although Precious has its comic moments, laughter at its subject matter borders on embarrassingly inappropriate (a common occurrence during my theater experience). Which begs the question if whether or not the film succeeds? As at the heart of Precious is the raw fact that sexual, domestic, and emotional abuse still exists in modern society, and that it is allowed and oftentimes, undetected. Such that despite Precious densely unfortunate situation, the context is even worse considering the walls that box her in from becoming her own woman and escaping her situation.
Lastly, executive producers Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, have been working tirelessly to support and promote this film, and thankfully their financial presence isn’t strong in Precious. Then again the film could have benefited from better steering and more well-rounded concept so that it could surpass the effect of the novel. Especially as dream sequences are used when Sidibe undergoes traumas and their cheesiest and cheapness actually work within her perspective.
Obviously, for upcoming Oscar season Precious should not be missed. Even more so as it starts conversations. Conversations that need to be had.