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Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

March 2, 2010

*review contains some spoilers*

Precious is the type of film that means well. It means to bring a story about the struggles of inner city Black youth, especially one girl’s trials and tribulations and dissect it for the world to see and understand. It apparently worked in some sense to get the names of Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey on board, yet considering Tyler Perry has been dishing out his own bland and repetitive images of the Black community I should have known to stay away from Precious. But I didn’t. I went in with the thought of seeing a story rarely told in order to put an empathetic eye to the crisis of not just Black youth but inner city youth in general. Little did I know, I would watch a melodramatic and at times tedious reaffirmation of stereotypes that the Black community has been trying for years to break.

My reaction to Precious was the same reaction I had after I first read Go Ask Alice; a possible propaganda story complied of the “found” journals of a 14-year-old girl in the 1960s who after experimenting with LSD becomes a hippie bum whose life spirals into addictions of nearly every drug under the sun. The story’s protagonist is raped, abused and meets other teens who are going through worse because of their experimentation with drugs. Initially after reading it I thought “there is no way in hell all of this happened to her.” And it didn’t. Investigations on the book’s publication insinuates it was a work of fiction published by a Christian company who’s ideals were to warn readers of the perils of drugs in a time where experimentation was becoming accepted and frequented.

Precious does the same expect it’s not as engaging as Go Ask Alice. It doesn’t have anyone or anything to fight except the system… I guess. Precious (Gabourey Sidibe) is an overweight 16 year-old student in Jr. High school on her second pregnancy by her own father. Her first child Mongold (short for Mongoloid) is mentally challenged, her mother is physically and emotionally abusive, she is harassed and beaten by neighborhood kids, and has to resort to theft in order to eat—that is when she’s not being forced to overeat by her mother, all while being forced to do daily chores that frequently result in beatings.

And that’s just half of the icing for Precious’ shit cake of a life. More is smeared on throughout the film as well as a nice candle of a depressing revelation tops it off towards the end. Everything in Precious’ life is ridiculously over-dramatic. Her social worker is an ignorant buffoon, her grandmother might as well be a mute, and Precious is left with only her fantasies to help her escape the harsh realities of being beaten and raped. Her mother, Mary’s (Mo’Nique), hate and anger at Precious is so over the top that for a moment I was sure I was watching a Lifetime Original movie.

Cinematically the film leaves much to be desired. Considering that the novel is told in first person narration it’s understandable why the film chose to use voice-overs. However the use of voice-over narrative is distracting due to Precious’ mumbled voice and it takes away from the experience of getting to personally know the characters we are meant to like. In one scene, Precious’ mentor Ms. Rain (Paula Patton) begins to tell Precious something pivotal about her own relationship with her mother. A scene that could have opened viewer’s eyes to who Ms. Rain is through her personal background is ruined by voice-over that mutes the discussion. The voice-over ends and Ms. Rain is heard saying “then I thought of you and how brave you’ve been” blatantly announcing to viewers that something valuable was missed.

Editing choices throughout the film are frankly terrible. Precious goes back and forth between shots of obvious handheld gritty camera movements contrasted with focused and professional digital shots. Director Lee Daniels uses a motif in certain scenes of editing shots through windows with interior shots, a choice that makes the scenes jumbled and difficult to focus on. Yet the biggest gripe I had with Precious, aside from its theme of the light-skinned saviors, was how it reaffirms stereotypes, like when Precious steals a bucket of chicken to eat or when Mary goes on a tirade about how she can’t eat pig’s feet without collard greens, or the fact that all the Black girls in Precious’ alternative class are loud mouthed uneducated minorities and a promiscuous Puerto Rican.

Such scenes could have been more effective had Precious stolen burgers from McDonald’s or a local restaurant considering throughout the entire film Precious questions people’s disdain for McDonald’s frequently stating how much she loves it. The lack of diversity in Precious’ alternative class could have easily been fixed with proper casting or the omission of the classes only white character appearing for one scene to correct Precious’ mispronunciation of the word “incest.”

Yet not all was bad in Precious, in fact there were some good parts aside from the attractiveness of Lenny Kravitz. Although portraying an over the top exaggeration of a character that almost seems too much for Broadway, Mo’Nique was wonderful and absolutely intriguing to watch and listen to. Everything that came out of her mouth seemed so realistically natural that at times it was terrifying. Mo’Nique takes a Soap Opera-esque character and gives her a layer of realism that makes the audience mentally evaluate her in every way possible in order to understand how anyone could be so evil.

Precious attempts to incorporate scenes of humor to take away the sting of the harsh images, however my head began to ache from continuously rolling my eyes at its triteness. Nevertheless Precious isn’t a horrible film although it’s far from the likes of Do The Right Thing or Boys N the Hood, two films that realistically portray the struggles of the youth that are its subjects. The characters and situations in both were 3-Dimensional, in-depth, and had a message, the main elements missing from Precious.

AVOID IT. But I call Oscar win for Mo’Nique.

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