by Rick Grant
This is a deeply disturbing film that features exemplary acting and a story about an abused woman, Precious (Gabourey “Gabby”Sidibe) overcoming extreme adversity. Set in 1987 in Harlem, Clareece “Precious” Jones is trapped in a hell-hole apartment with her evil abusive mother, Mary (Mo’Nique).
Precious has been sexually abused since she was 3 years old by her father, Mary’s boyfriend. Mary is psychotically jealous of her own daughter being raped by her father. Now Precious has two children by her father and is semi-illiterate. The story could be considered exploitative except welfare mutants like Mary do exist in the black community–then and now.
Mo’Nique brilliantly drags the viewer into Mary’s psychotic degradation to the point that it’s difficult to watch this greasy pig-feet eating cretin spew profanity at her own daughter. She is one nasty bitch as she belittles Precious every day, calling her, among other things, a fat stupid bitch.
Viewers will cringe and want to go up to the screen and smash Mary’s face in. She throws things at Precious and hits her on the back with a frying pan. Once, she threw her TV at Precious, narrowly missing her and her baby.
Directed by Lee Daniels from Geoffrey Fletcher’s film adaptation of Ramona Lofton’s novel, the script is dark and unrelentingly bleak. What chance does Precious have under these extremely violent conditions? None.
However, Precious is saved by a guidance counselor who ignores her mother’s rage and gets her into a special school Each One Teach One, where a kindly teacher helps her learn to read and get away from her hostile home life.
The school is a sanctuary where Precious is treated with respect and encouraged to learn. The teacher has all her students write a journal. Gradually, Precious reveals her home experiences in her journal that ultimately leads to a showdown with her mother.
During the times Precious is being raped by her father, she fantasizes about being a singing star, beloved by her fans. These scenes are a buffer for both the character of Precious and the audience. When viewers see what Precious is contending with, they are appalled and sympathetic, but worry about her. She’s overweight, but smart. If Precious can lift herself out of her mother’s hellish environment, she might have a chance of finding a meaningful life.
This type of extreme abuse usually leads to multiple personalty disorder in which the consciousness protects the primary self by shifting to alternate personalities. This seemed to be happening to Precious. She saw herself as a beautiful white woman in the mirror, conjuring up other personalities to protect her main self from the ravages of her unconscionable abuse by her mother and father.
What really saves Precious is her ongoing relationship with a welfare agent, Mrs. Weiss, (Mariah Carey) who gains Precious’ confidence and gets her to tell the truth about her home life. This leads Mrs. Weiss to bringing in Precious’ mother Mary to confront her with Precious’ accusations of sexual abuse. This is the scene that sets Precious free of the demon witch Mary.
Director Daniels vacillates between portraying white guilt and black power. It’s a delicate balance to avoid stereotyping. Remarkably, Daniels pulled it off. Not surprisingly, Opah Winfrey and Tyler Perry collaborated in financing this movie. Shades of The Color Purple can be seen in the way Daniels structured his mosaic.
People will leave the theater disturbed but hopeful that these racial archetypes are rapidly fading away as humanity makes more progress. It was the generous love by Mrs. Weiss and Precious’ teacher that helped her to adopt a positive attitude and rise up out of the gutter. The message: Love conquers all.
PRECIOUS Movie Review
by Rick Grant