MRR Movie Review: Precious

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A heartwrenching drama film based on the Sapphire novel "Push". Set in 1987 Harlem, the main character is an overweight 16-year-old African-American girl named Precious Jones (Gabourey Sidibe). Impregnated twice by her mother's boyfriend, Precious has two children including one who suffers from Down syndrome. She's also emotionally and physically abused by her mother (played by Mo'Nique). Because she's illiterate, Precious gets into a special program that connects her with other alienated teenagers as well as a teacher (Paula Patton) who becomes her mentor and biggest supporter. Mariah Carey also stars as a social worker.
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Movie Review: "Precious"

Rating: R (child abuse including sexual assault and pervasive language)
Length: 110 minutes
Release date: November 20, 2009
Directed by: Lee Daniels
Genre: Drama

Claireece "Precious" Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) is an illiterate, overweight, pregnant teenager dreaming of a better life. She is the central character in Lee Daniels' sophomore directorial effort, "Precious." This deeply moving film is adapted from the novel "Push" by Sapphire. Precious grows up in economically-depressed Harlem in 1987. Her mother Mary (Mo'Nique) is physically and verbally abusive. "Precious" is a brutally honest story of hardship, second chances, and redemption.

As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that this is Precious' second pregnancy by her own father. At sixteen, she is still in junior high school. She seems trapped in a life of poverty and shame. The principal of the school seeks to help Precious, connecting her with an alternative school called Each One Teach One.

Precious wants nothing more than the opportunity to create a better life for herself. At her new school, Precious learns not just how to read and write but also to find her voice. Her teacher, Ms. Rain (Paula Patton), encourages her to push herself and expand her boundaries.

The film alternates between difficult images of her real life and gauzy dreams of a better future. While they are occasionally disjointed and confusing, these narrative breaks provide an honest look inside Precious' mind and soul. When she feels ugly and unlovable, she dreams of being beautiful and adored. When she is knocked to the ground by bullies, she dreams of receiving genuine affection. In contrast, when Ms. Rain encourages Precious to read, all Precious can envision is her mother yelling and calling her names.

Despite the freedom she finds in her new educational opportunities, Precious must return home every night. Instead of the sanctuary she longs for, she encounters a mother who belittles her desire for a better life. It isn't until after Precious' second child is born that her opportunity to escape presents itself. After one of Mary's particularly violent episodes, Precious seeks shelter at the only safe place she knows. When she is found sleeping in the school in the morning, her teacher begins finding her a place to live. At first, Precious stays with Ms. Rain. It is there that she learns to accept people with different lifestyles. Later, she moves into a halfway house and prepares to live independently.

Precious finally begins to realize who her real allies are, and the welfare agent, Ms. Weiss (Mariah Carey), stands by Precious throughout. Ms. Rain continues to encourage her to write and to aspire to a better life. These strong women, Precious' classmates, and a nurse (Lenny Kravitz) she befriends when giving birth to her son, all remain allies. Even when they later learn that Precious' own health is deeply threatened, they continue to stand with her.

Despite incredible hardship, Precious learns to stand tall. She finds pride in who she is. She learns how it feels to be loved and accepted. She realizes that despite race, disability, sexual orientation, or any other type of difference, what is important is who a person is on the inside. These important lessons are not conveyed with subtlety, but that can be forgiven in a film with such a big heart.

At times clumsy and often heavy-handed, the direction of the film is nonetheless well-motivated. The characters feel genuine and most show some depth. Even Mary displays complexity when she describes the history of sexual abuse in her home. She exposes the story that until then had remained unspoken, in the process revealing what may be her own underlying mental illness.

"Precious" does not shy away from portraying the brutality of the main character's life. The film features very harsh language and portrays rape and other forms of violence unflinchingly. The subject matter is difficult and watching it on film is no easier. But as hard as it can be to watch the more violent scenes, it is just as uplifting and empowering to see Precious emerge with her head held high. She has seen what the cycle of violence has done not just to herself, but to her mother, her neighbors, and her friends. She has also had a glimpse of what life is like for those fortunate enough to live free from violence. She knows that every choice she makes, from treating her disabled daughter gently, to going to school every day, to reading to her infant son, will help her create a better life for herself and her family. She knows that the chance to start over is an incredible gift, and she won't waste one day of it.

Rating: 4 out of 5