Cast: Gabouray Sidibe, Mo' Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz, Sherri Shepard
NYU Tisch '07
"...And hey, I met you. You are not cool." -Almost Famous
Review By: Michael Dance
When Precious was in theaters, I didn’t think much of it. I didn’t know anything about the film, and just looking at the poster, I saw two reasons not to see it. They were ‘Tyler‘ and ‘Perry‘. Not until people started telling me how amazing it was did I look more closely. The title character was not, in fact, a cross dressing 40 year old writer/director, as I had assumed. She was, however, a staggeringly talented young woman with no acting background, by the name of Gabourey Sidibe.
The story of Precious began as a book called Push, written by Sapphire (the pen name of Ramona Lofton). Though she was approached many times about doing a big screen adaptation, it wasn’t until she saw the work of Director Lee Daniels that she agreed to give him the rights. The film finished shooting in an impressively short 5 weeks. It screened at the Sundance film festival and received great praise. Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry were so taken by it, that they offered to assist in the film’s distribution. The film was retitled to ‘Precious‘ to avoid being confused with the 2009 action film ‘Push‘. Precious hit theaters in a limited release November 6th, but more extensively on November 20th. It has since grossed over $60 million, effectively earning back its $10 million budget.
The film takes place in 1987, and tells the story of an overweight and illiterate 16 year old african american girl named Claireece “Precious” Jones. Precious lives in Harlem with her abusive mother Mary (Mo’Nique) while her first child (she is pregnant with her second) is cared for by her grandmother. Precious relies on extensive fantasies to soften the harsh world around her, usually involving herself posing as a film or pop star, living a life full of glamour. As the film progresses, Precious enrolls in an alternative school, where education begins to show her that she has control over her life.
Precious is a very powerful film, not only because of the intense material it deals with, but also the stark and simplistic realism with which it is presented. Daniels creates a gritty rendition of 1980′s harlem, which does tremendous service to the script, allowing it to really take hold through its surroundings. The acting is all exemplary, especially the leads. Gabourey Sidibe gives the single strongest debut performance I have ever seen. Her portrayal of Claireece Jones is so thorough, that it becomes quite jarring to watch her in interviews, as real life Gabby talks like a valley girl! The level to which she is able to embody the Precious character would be impressive for a professional actor with decades of training and experience, neither of which she had. Mo’Nique won a well deserved oscar for her portrayal of Mary, Precious’s abusive mother. Her last scene alone, just her talking mind you, is
Daniels uses two music icons very effectively in the film. Lenny Kravitz plays John, a sympathetic nurse whose affection towards Precious helps her to feel wanted by the people around her. He demonstrates some very promising acting potential in his sadly brief screen time. The real bombshell, however, is Mariah Carey, who is completely unrecognizable as a drab social worker who is slowly drawn into Precious’s case. Seeing her name in the credits, I assumed there must have been a mistake. But sure enough, that sleep deprived civil servant is actually a five-time grammy award winning pop star.
The DVD offers a number of special features, on top of the now-standard deleted scenes and director’s commentary. There are a number of featurettes, detailing the various hurdles the film had to overcome – adaptation to the screen, casting the right actress as Precious, and the Tyler Perry/Oprah Winfrey distribution team-up to name a few. One thing I quite enjoyed was a commentary on the film by the Sapphire, in which she explained her personal take on the novel, the film, and everything that happened in between.