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Look Out for Dad! Look Out for Mom!

Movie Title: Precious: Based on the novel “Push” by Sapphire (2009)
Spoilers: No

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Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire is one hell of a movie as it is a title. It's as rich and as meaningful as this fancifully essay-ish title makes it sound. Masterfully directed by Lee Daniels, with Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry as executive producers, the film is served up like the finest of gourmet feasts—now if only you have a taste for what’s on the menu.

Originally, it was to be called “Push,” but since the title was taken by another in-production 2009 film, “Precious” was the close-second choice. As it turned out, that title was also taken, which is why the subtitle was added for clarification. Sapphire, the writer of the novel that the movie is based on, tells a confounding story of pain in the life of a sixteen-year-old girl from a poverty-stricken and irreparably broken home.

The story of Clarice “Precious” Jones (Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe) is as moving as it is painful each and every step of the way. Young Precious hates her life. She wishes she was dead most of the time, and you can’t blame her for that. She doesn’t give up, even with so much riding against her; she is poor, black, obese, illiterate, ready to steal to have a better quality of life, and a victim of physical and sexual (not to mention, verbal) abuse.

Her two kids (Mongo and Abdul) are from rape by her father, and the home life provided by her mother (Mo‘Nique) is nearly as criminal as dad’s animalistic tendencies. Pregnant and kicked out of school, Precious pursues a new path by enrolling in an alternative school. There, “Ms. Rain” (Paula Patton), an inspiringly patient teacher, and “Mrs. Weiss” (Mariah Carey), a thoughtfully caring social worker, sees potential in her to go with the pain.

Underneath its straightforward-sounding plot, Precious the film is as multilayered as Precious the girl. Daniels uses a heavily artsy style with Precious’ oft-made mental retreats anytime tragedy strikes. She retreats into a happier world where she is a star. Sometimes she’s a diva, sometimes a white girl who has things better.

Daniels’ artsy style doesn’t take long to get used to. Only during the first half of the film are there scenes that come close to being robbed of their intended emotional impact by this stylistic touch. It remains true that the material of the story is never handled with anything less than the utmost care, taking into account the seriousness of the subject matter.

With a movie of this theme, it is not difficult to see why it will make a number of viewers angry. Every black stereotype is tossed and rubbed in like lotion, ensuring that you hate whom you’re supposed to hate. Find the played-upon racial stereotypes offensive if you want, but remember that stereotypes exist for a reason—they identify those on the fringes of an in-group or out-group. Just because we love to hate them doesn’t take from the fact that they exist.

Precious’ world is a real world, one that many of us will only have this mind-blowing movie as a glimpse into. It’s real, though some of us would rather not know about it...or just not watch movies about it. Precious will make you think about it more than you want to, and some would say, more than you should.

If that’s how you feel, don’t watch. There is plenty of profanity, family violence, including brief rape scenes, and graphic sexual abuse that is described in such detail that the hostile critic might call it emotionally exploitative.

Is it right for writers to go digging for gold in the dank mines of abuse and bad homes for the sake of producing an emotionally charged film? Only you can decide. Partly, it might depend on your background. Some would contend that this raises awareness, others that this is a side of humanity that no one needs to see. But what do you do when you awake each day to a life that comes close to the one Precious lives? Shouldn’t her pain be expressed? If many of us woke up in her shoes, we’d take a header off a building before dinnertime.

Most beautifully, the film never caters to expected cliché. Precious is not some untapped black prodigy found on the streets who is given a chance by some benevolent, white Obama supporter who feels compelled to help out of the guilt of his prosperity. The film is not bent on paying its dues with the usual load of philanthropically poisoning liberal politics that are accompanied by that always-recognizable stench of white guilt.

The story of Precious is not about getting past racial barriers or promoting diversity, but about moving past the pain, about bettering one’s self, about choosing a new path. You cry as you sit in awe with the unfortunate chapters of a girl’s life unfolding before you. I had to recover after seeing it once, and then I went back and saw it again!

Mo‘Nique and Sidibe give Oscar-worthy performances. Carey’s “Mrs. Weiss” is unforgettable. The three make the characters their own in a way that outshines so many other attempts in film. Precious is, hands down, one of the best movies of the year.

(JH)

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Grade: A+ (4 stars) Recommended!
Rated: R
Director: Lee Daniels
Summary: An illiterate teen who is pregnant with her second child is invited to enroll in an alternative school in hopes that her life can head in a new direction.
Starring: Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe “Precious,” Mo'Nique “Mary,” Paula Patton “Ms. Rain,” Mariah Carey “Mrs. Weiss,” Sherri Shepherd “Cornrows,” Lenny Kravitz “Nurse John,” Stephanie Andujar “Rita,” Chyna Layne “Rhonda,” Amina Robinson “Jermaine”
Genre: Drama
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