Some movies make me want to run out of the theatre, others to mildly compliment the main actors and move on with my life, and yet others inspire me to write my own movies. Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire made me want to do none of those things. Precious made me want to see the movie a second time. The film is a rare gift to American cinema, a movie that is both formally and stylistically exciting, buoyed by a brilliant screenplay penned by Geoffrey Fletcher and matched by the directing skills of Lee Daniels. Daniels has chosen subjects that are considered totally unbankable by Hollywood standards, child abuse, poverty, and teenage pregnancy, and invested in them a sincerity and dedication that inspires the audience to care—not an easy feat and one that has won him my loyalty forever.
Precious tells the story of Claireece “Precious” Jones (Gabourey Sidibe), an African-American teenager from Harlem now on her second pregnancy; she must deal with abuse sustained at home and at school. She is a bad kid, unkind, violent, and unresponsive in class. It is not until a guidance counselor takes a special interest in her that her life changes. Suddenly, she is enrolled in an alternative school and coming clean about her absurdly abusive mother (Mo’Nique) to a social worker (Mariah Carey). As her life turns around, she must make difficult decisions about its course, and whether to try harder (push) to find a better life or accept a difficult situation and do nothing.
The actors propel a good movie into the great category. Each one of them brings a special honesty to their role, making each actor, even the villains believable. Mo’Nique is a stand-out and deserves praise for her courageous turn as Precious’ crazed mom. Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz, first timer Sidibe, who knew any of these people could act? Any movie with Mariah Carey I would stay far away from (see: Glitter) but here she is brilliant as a social worker.
The camera work is also fun, sometimes poised and fabulous during Precious’ fantasy sequences (as a dancer, a star, a model, etc) other times gritty and handheld during moments of abuse. The cuts are quick and filmic, propelling the movie’s action in an interesting and exciting almost stream-of-consciousness rush of movement. Finally, the director’s sense of Harlem is strong; his depth and detail in describing 1988 Harlem reminds me of Dickens’ handling of mid-19th century England. Each city is a bricks and mortar prison, a crumbling crack-house where dreams come to fail—Precious stands out in the foreground of this city, her red scarf a sign of hope in otherwise deliriously unhopeful world.
My wish for this movie is that more people see it. Each moviegoer is another vote to film studios that the banal, generic shit that they feed us is making us fed up. We want real stories, real people, and real situations, not another rom-com. Precious opens to a wider audience next week, but Angelenos and New Yorkers have no excuse not to see this movie. Go see Precious now, this movie has earned my highest praise.