Precious Review: Valuable Viewing
PRECIOUS: On General Release In The UK From Friday 29th January
If you went by the posters, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Precious was an upbeat film full of sunshine and light. But it’s only uplifting because it first takes you as low as it’s possible to go.
When you hit rock bottom, even the merest glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel is salvation.
This is the story of an obese black teenager, Claireece Precious Jones (Gabourey Sidibe), who lives in 1980s Harlem and is psychological and physically abused by her mother (Mo’Nique), repeatedly raped by her father by whom she’s already had one mentally handicapped child and is now pregnant with the second. It couldn’t be bleaker.
When her headmistress realises that she’s expecting for the second time, Precious is expelled. Her teacher refers her to a special school where – with the help of doting teacher Miss Blu Rain (Paula Patton) – Precious learns that she isn’t stupid, and that through education, she has the chance to escape the hell that she’s been born into.
This film is a veritable goldmine of new acting talent. Gabourey Sidibe in the lead role speaks in a soft mumble – sometimes not wholly intelligible, but somehow likable. Because she speaks quietly, you find yourself craning in to listen more carefully to what she’s saying which makes her all the more compelling. She has a dignified stoicism rooted in escapism – she frequently imagines herself as a larger than life diva to avoid her everyday trauma.
But the indisputable jewel in Precious‘s crown is Mo’Nique as Mary, her scornful mother who’s easily the best thing about the film. She’s an unashamed abuser of the system – when she’s not hurling things at Precious, yelling at her to make her food or belittling her, she’s screaming for her to pick up her welfare cheque.
Her viciousness and contempt for her own daughter and grandchildren is so thoroughly monstrous and made even more so by her ability to create a convincing façade of respectability with which she easily deceives visiting social workers – a real demon of the screen.
A tense, confessional confrontation between Precious and her mother supervised by social worker Weiss (Mariah Carey – shorn of her omnipresent makeup and surprisingly easily holding her own against some other superb performances) is a scene that will be hard to forget.
It’s not all gloom and doom – there are moments of levity and dark humour from Precious’ classmates, a welcome break which prevents the film from slipping into unrelenting depression.
The film falters somewhat with its “you can do it” message which while admirable, sometimes feels jarring; Miss Blu Rain’s inspirational sermons invite unwelcome comparisons to the ham-fisted Dangerous Minds.
In spite of this, Precious is an uncompromisingly brutal film which paints a horrifying reality which is hard to even contemplate. It’s an emotionally devastating portrayal of domestic abuse, superbly portrayed by an excellent cast, which conveys despair, escapism, camaraderie and ultimately, hope.
And it is uplifting; it’s just that in order to experience the highs, you have to be subjected to the most punishing of lows.