If I had known what Precious was about, I probably wouldn't have wanted to see it. Just too dark and depressing. You can't really tell a story like Precious (which joins a list of film titles I will never -- ever -- pronounce in full) successfully if you aren't daring your audience to drive the nearest knife into their wrists. Kudos, then, to screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher and director Lee Daniels for injecting at least some humor and hope into the film. About midway through the movie I was pretty astonished that, despite the rough hand our central character, Precious, was dealt, the movie is undeniably entertaining. It hooked me. I cared. I wanted a happy ending, and even though things got even worse from that point on for her, I believe what the film believes: that the good and strength in people doesn't always prevail, but it can. I trusted in Precious' strength, even if we only see it in snippets early on.
Gabourey Sidibe deserves the Oscar nomination she has coming to her. I've seen her in interviews, making the rounds of all the talk shows, and she couldn't be more different than her character. I only point this out because I will admit to wondering if Sidibe -- unfair as it might be -- was essentially playing a version of herself which might be both a tribute to her work and an insult to the actress. She's bursting with life, where Precious has it buried and burning inside. I went to middle and elementary school with girls like Precious. I've made fun of them. They deserve better.
As you can guess, a huge reason this is an effective film is the acting. Mariah Carey is surprisingly effective as a social worker who wants some answers before she starts handing out welfare checks. Paula Patton essentially plays an angel, but we need one in stories like these -- especially in stories with someone like Mo'Nique's wretched mother. In a great assortment of strong female performances, Mo'Nique's is perhaps the most powerful. I heard all the talk about how good she was, but I almost always take everything I hear with a grain of salt. I was taken aback by her work here. I mean, Mo'Nique?
There are moments that made me smile. Like when Precious sets a boy in her class straight because she has a crush on her teacher. Or watching the interactions between Precious and her classmates, particularly the antics of her eventual friend, Joann (Xosha Roquemore). Of course, there is the moment where Precious finally stands up to her monster of a mother. If you aren't beaming with pride for how far she has come, somewhere you slipped. And it isn't white liberal guilt that has made Precious a success in this way (as some online bloggers and writers have tried to spin this minor triumph) -- it's just good moviemaking. That's it. There have been many movies that have tried to do what Precious does really well here. But where those films have failed, this film has succeeded.
Watching Precious, I'm reminded of another film about the depressive ordeals of women in distress, Dancer in the Dark. Both films are made with care. Both films contain strong performances. Both films contain a story that is increasingly cruel to its central character. I can understand the admiration for either film and I can understand the bile spewed toward either film. On an objective level, I get it. But movies become personal experiences and where I hate Dancer in the Dark and will not defend it, I will surely defend Precious. I walked out of Lars von Trier's movie in a state of despair. I leave Precious encouraged. There are two worlds here: one hopeless, one hopeful. I choose to live in the latter.
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Dre writes for Film.com weekly.
Editor's Note: our apologies for the tardiness of this review, we were waiting for Precious to expand to a wide release.