random reviews, recollections & reminiscings

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

REEL REVIEW: Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire (2009) ****

Precious (2009) poster  2

written by: Geoffrey Fletcher
produced by: Lee Daniels, Oprah Winfrey & Tyler Perry
directed by: Lee Daniels

rated R for child abuse including sexual assault, and pervasive language.

109 minutes



She sits silently in the back of her class and dreams.She picture a life with her nice Math teacher, living together in Westchester. After all, he always smiles at her. She would love to have a light-skinned boyfriend with nice hair. Her dreams of Hollywood stardom and the adoration of cute boys take her away from the reality that's hardened her into a prison of numbness. She is Claireece "Precious" Jones (newcomer Gabourey Sidibe) and although she goes by Precious, no one sees her that way. They see an obese, illiterate sixteen year-old who mumbles her words and avoids eye contact. She has been mentally, verbally, physically and sexually abused all her life. She is pregnant with her second child from her father. That's only a glimpse at this girl's harrowing life and the most incredible element that chips away at the despair is that Precious has hope.

By all rights, she should be as down and out as everyone she has encountered. Living at home with her welfare mother in Harlem circa 1987 is hell. Precious is beaten, told she should have been aborted and is treated like a slave. She had her first child on her kitchen floor as her mother kicked her in the head. That child, named Mongol because she was born with Down Syndrome, is under the care of her mother, Mary (an amazing Mo'Nique) but lives with her grandmother which keeps the welfare checks coming in. Despite this horrific environment, Precious manages to have a vivid imagination which helps her escape and a spark of resilience that can be seen every so often.
It is only when a couple unforgettable women come into her life that she is able to see a way toward normalcy. She may not know what normal is but it has to be better than where she's at. Precious is sent to the "Each One, Teach One" GED education center, where she meets sympathetic teacher Ms. Rain (Paula Patton), after being expelled from junior high. In a small class setting of similar girls and a teacher who is actually giving Precious the attention she needs, she tried to break out of her coma and deal with the daily punishments and humiliations. She is on the frustrating path of learning to read and write while trying to deal with issues like starvation. Another source of help is welfare counselor Ms. Weiss ( an effectively unglammed Mariah Carey), who attempts to reaffirm Precious' self-worth. While both these women are empathetic toward Precious' situation, neither of them go easy on her. Both integral characters expect her to push herself and fight the forces in her life that kick her down. And despite how hard it is to watch Precious endure such pain and affliction, it is inspriring to see her take one day at a time.
Lee Daniels knows a few things about strong women and difficult subjects, having produced films like "Monster's Ball" and "The Woodsman." This is a bold and confident sophomore effort as a director (I haven't seen "The Shadowboxer" with Cuba Gooding, Jr. & Helen Mirren) instead of a cautious, safe or stereotypical approach. Daniels knows that he has to take us way down into the lacerating depths before he can bring about any levity, and he does so by providing some lighter moments. In fantasy sequences where we retreat into Precious' day-dreaming imagination and from the antics of her GED classmates, we're able to come up for air before the choke-hold of reality tightens on us once again. Yes, as I anticipated, it is a difficult film to watch but these moments make it possible to go on.
If Daniels makes it easier for us to watch the film by mixing up the tone, it is Sidibe that will mesmerize. Don't get me wrong, without a doubt Mo'Nique deserves all the Oscar buzz she's getting. In fact, her monologue toward the end, seals the deal. She plays one of the most vile characters I've seen in any recent film. The most difficult thing to come to terms with is that her character actually exists. Just as there are kids out there like Precious, who hardly have any hope, there are also parents/guardians out there like Mo'Nique's Mary. Sidibe is the one who has to take all the blows though. She gives life and character to Precious through her expressions (or at times, lack thereof) and in her narrating voice overs we hear her resilient attitude, "The other day, I cried. I felt stupid. But you know what? F*** that day." Regardless of her lack of self-esteem, she carries on and takes you on her journey and you want to fight with her.
Daniels and screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher aren't providing any remedy for the devastating lives we see here. While the story strikes several staggering low points, hope is never far from view. Without a doubt, the film is harrowing to process at times but it retains an undeniable emotional grip through unbelievable horror.
Saphirre, the author of the book (hence the lenghty title), has said that the character of Precious is a composite of teens she had come across while working and living in New York City. That's the most sobering reminder to me. These people are real. They're out there. There are viewers who might even see themselves in the roles portrayed here and as hard as that is to see, I'm glad it's out there. You probably know someone like Precious without even knowing it.

Precious (2009) poster  3
Precious (2009) poster 4
The Skinny:
  • The film was originally titled, 'Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire', but the change was announced in February 2009, by Tyler Perry. It was confirmed soon afterwards by the film's distributor Lionsgate. The change was made to avoid confusion with the 2009 action film "Push".
  • Helen Mirren was originally cast as Mrs. Weiss.
  • The film was shot in five weeks.
  • Over 400 girls were interviewed from across the country for the part of Precious. Sidibe was cast a mere six weeks before the start of shooting after being forced to the audition by friends.
  • Sidibe read the novel Push years before when her mother, singer Alice Tan Ridley, was approached to play the role of Mary in an earlier production that never came to fruition.
  • Over the course of the shoot the production lost an editor, a cinematographer, three continuity people, three locations managers, two producers, two assistant directors, two sound people, two video playback people, and two caterers.
  • Mo'Nique played a character by the name of Precious in director Lee Daniels's previous film 2005's "Shadowboxer."
  • The film premiered in January 2009 at the Sundance Film Festival as Push: Based On The Novel By Sapphire, where it won the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize for best drama, as well as a Special Jury Prize for supporting actress Mo'Nique.
  • musician Lenny Kravitz, in his acting debut, was cast as John McFadden; a nurse who shows kindness to Precious.
  • The theme song for the film, titled "Push," was written and produced by Robin Thicke.

Interview with director Lee Daniels



Precious (2009) poster 1

Moving Pictures

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