Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

I was blown away by the movie Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, when I saw it this past week. I was kind of annoyed before I saw it, because I felt someone presenting at the Golden Globes spoiled the story, by giving away something that was likely meant to be a surprise to viewers. It's hard to enjoy a film when you're in a bad mood, but Precious is so powerful that I completely forgot my trivial complaint and was overwhelmed by the story and emotions unfolding before me.

Precious is the story of a young lady, played by newcomer Gabourey Sidibe, who has been almost completely silenced by her horrible life. She is inarticulate, illiterate, and unable to express the slightest complaint against her horrible, abusive mother or anyone else that torments her. Nicknamed Precious, she is a sixteen year old teen who is pregnant with her second child. She is good at math but cannot sound out the simplest words when she tries to read. She escapes from her horrific home life by imagining that she is famous and the subject of adoration; whether she's walking the red carpet or just being fabulous.

As the film begins, Precious is in math class in Harlem, thinking about how much she likes her teacher, who treats her with respect. She's daydreaming about him when she's called out of class and told to report to the principal's office. The principal demands to know if it's true that Precious is pregnant again, stating that the teen is only sixteen and still in middle school. Precious is in full defense mode, retreating to a glare, the kind we all remember from when we were teens. When Precious has little to say, the principal expels her, which made me think my head would explode from rage. Is being pregnant a reason to be expelled? If so why? If anything girls who are about to be mothers need more education, not less. How is a teen with a baby and no diploma going to support her family? I would be at that school having a fit if my child was expelled but of course a great many of Precious' problems are precisely because she has a mother who won't fight for her, but instead is her child's enemy.

When the principal makes a home visit Precious is subjected to even more abuse from her mother Mary, played by Mo'nique, who is afraid of social services finding out what really goes on in the home. The principal is refused entry to the home but she manages to leave some information with Precious about a special school called Each One Teach One, which is prepared to give the teen a chance. This is probably the best thing that could happen to Precious as she is finally evaluated and given remedial reading lessons. Her English teacher Ms. Rain (Paula Patton) is determined and passionate and sets the entire class to writing; journaling as a way to communicate and explore who they are and what's holding them back. The teacher writes back to the students and has an excellent opportunity to give the teens advice in a way that is accessible and can be absorbed at their own pace.

Mariah Carey is Precious' social worker, who plays a pivotal, complicated role in the film. I had a hard time figuring her out. Is she bored? Overwhelmed? Just trying not to let her emotions show so she can do her job? I wasn't sure but her own locked down aspect isn't much help to Precious, who is struggling to emerge from the cocoon state she has hidden in as she tries to endure her incessant abuse.

The cast in this film is sensational. Mo'nique has already won some awards for her gritty portrayal of Mary, a woman who is carrying on the long cycle of abuse in the worst way, but hers is not the only award worthy acting in the film. Lenny Kravitz is excellent as the nurse who is kind and supportive to Precious when she gives birth. Paula Patton shines as the dedicated teacher and Ms. Sidibe is simply amazing as Precious. I think her acting isn't getting the accolades it should because so much of it is subtle. She doesn't get to be grandly dramatic and loud as so much of what's happening with her character is deeply internalized.

Precious is a complicated, emotional, painful film. Some scenes are extremely difficult to watch and others are enraging. I opted to watch this on my own. My children are mostly grown but I still thought it would be too upsetting for them. Interestingly someone very close to me was appalled that I watched it and said they would have told me not to if they had known I was planning to see it. They have a good point. If your own childhood was abusive you should think long and hard before you see this film as it will stir up feelings you may think have been resolved.

One-Paragraph Review

This week's one-paragraph review is from Why Me who writes in to say, "The new Jocalat bars from Larabar are horrible. They taste like old cocoa, mashed with orange peel, then dipped in gasoline. They might make a good gift for someone you hate." Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.