Movie Mom

Movie Mom


Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

posted by Nell Minow
A-
Lowest Recommended Age:Adult
MPAA Rating:Rated R for child abuse including sexual assault, and pervasive language
Profanity:Constant very bad language, some crude
Nudity/Sex:Explicit sexual references and situations including rape and incest
Alcohol/Drugs:Drinking, smoking, reference to drug abuse
Violence/Scariness:Very disturbing images and situtations, horrific physical, sexual, and emotional domestic abuse including rape, incest
Diversity Issues:Diverse characters
Movie Release Date:November 6, 2009
DVD Release Date:March 9, 2010

Claireece (newcomer Gabourey ‘Gabby’ Sidibe) is a 16-year-old, still in middle school, illiterate, pregnant with her second child. The first baby has Down Syndrome. Both pregnancies are the result of rape by her own father. She is subjected to constant physical, emotional, and sexual abuse and has retreated so far inside herself that she barely exists in the world. And in a cruel parody of tenderness, she is called by her middle name, “Precious.” In a cruel demonstration of the constrictions of her world, Precious knew no other name to give her Down Syndrome child than “Mongo.”

Inside 350 pounds of weight, a moat of flesh, her wall against the world, Precious hides as far from everyone as she can go. She has little wisps of dreams cobbled together from television, a light-skinned boyfriend, a stroll down a red carpet, surrounded by cameras and adoring fans. But she is so limited in experience and opportunity that she literally cannot imagine a genuine alternative to what she has. She does not even know what the word “alternative” means. When the middle school principal arranges for her to attend a special “each one teach one” alternative school, someone has to explain to her what an alternative is. It is, a distracted administrator tells her, “a different way of doing.” And it is that recognition, more than the program itself, just the realization that there are different ways of doing, that leads her to understand that there may be choices available to her.

Seeing Precious understand for the first time that she is worthy of love and capable of learning is the expected pleasure of this movie. But it is also the challenge of the film. Even slightly toned down from the novel, by poet and teacher Sapphire, the abuse is so relentless, so outrageous, even beyond the usual struggles we see in fiction and on the talk shows and tabloid covers.

They thrive on exploitative confessions, a secularized testimony that tries to disinfect the prurient pleasures of wallowing in degradation and tragedy with the superficial pieties of simplistic redemption. The post-production sign-on of Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry as producers, both survivors of abuse and highly successful purveyors of abuse melodrama, is a sign to be wary. And even with a sensitive performance by Sidibe, this film would risk falling into that trap of easy sentimentality. That it does not is due to one character and one actress, comedienne Mo’Nique in her Oscar-winning, fearless portrayal of the mother, a monster named, with grim irony, Mary.

Two key scenes in the film focus on Mary’s interactions with social workers. In the first, like a theatrical director, she barks out orders to set the stage for a visit, casting herself in the role of a loving grandmother, to persuade the social worker that she is doing everything necessary to qualify for welfare payments for her extended family. Where moments before she seemed completely out of control, wavering back and forth between stupor and rage, when she has to pull it together, she does, slapping on a wig and cuddling the baby. The instant the door shuts, the monster returns.

And then, near the end, in another meeting with another social worker (beautifully underplayed by pop diva Mariah Carey), Mary starts to talk and for the first time we see her as the victim as well as the inflicter of damage. In a monologue she seems to forget where she is and who she wants to appear to be and opens herself up in a moment so raw, so naked, so vulnerable that it takes the entire film to a different level.

Director Lee Daniels, like his producers Winfrey and Perry, brings a sincerity to telling these stories that tempers the potential for exploitation. He has a sure, if unconventional, eye for casting. In addition to Mo’Nique and Carey, he gets small jewels of performances from talk-show and sit-com star Sherry Shepherd as the alternative school administrator and musician Lenny Kravitz as a sympathetic nurse. The lovely Paula Patton brings understated grace to the role of the alternative teacher, and the assortment of young performers who play the classmates at Each One Teach One manage to avoid the “Welcome Back Kotter” syndrome and evoke full characters. But Mo’Nique’s fierce and fearless performance as Mary holds the story together and takes it to another level. She does not let us hate her because she does not let us compartmentalize her. By opening herself up on screen, she forces us to look into the source of her damaged heart. And that moment, more than any other, shows us what Precious has had to overcome.



  • Cece

    Once I say the movie trailers for Precious I was ready to support. I watched the interviews and was ready to get with my friends to see this movie. The one problem was, the movie is not playing in Fayetteville, NC and I could not understand why. We have 4 theaters that I know of and did not understand why it is not showing here. Just wanted to get this information out because there are people in Fayetteville who want to hear the story of Precious.
    Thank you,
    Cece

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    Hello, Cece, and thanks for the comment. The movie is expanding slowly to the rest of the country, and I am certain it will get a wide release because it has done so well in the first group of cities. So I hope it will come to Fayetteville soon. Please let me know when you see it. Best wishes, Nell

  • Alicia

    I very much want to see this film, even though I get what you say about the possibilities of exploitation and schmaltz, Nell. I also highly recommend a very different type of coming of age story, “An Education” (and I hope to see your review of) which I think would be appreciated by high school students. It is superb, funny, well-acted, and very genuine.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    Thanks, Alicia! I have some further thoughts on that issue coming up. And please do read my review of “An Education.” I loved it!

  • Alicia

    I overlooked your review of “An Education” when it came out, Nell. It is one of my favorite films of the year.

  • iorek

    Thanks for such a thoughtful, well written review.

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