Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews
- Category: Jacqueline Monahan
- Published on 18 December 2009
- Written by Jacqueline Monahan
Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
You may think you know all about a film from its tagline or from hearing its catch phrase; director Lee Daniels’ Precious has one that packs a punch to the gut. “16 year old girl, pregnant for the 2nd time by her father…” Just that snippet of information is enough to capture the average person’s attention. What keeps it is a compelling journey of transformation and hope.
Set in Harlem in 1987, the titular character is an obese middle-schooler (she narrates her situation, past and present, throughout the story) who lives with her abusive mother, Mary (Mo’Nique) and moves through life as an observer in her own unhappy existence. Things happen to her as they always have, without her participation or permission.
Precious Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) has a fantasy life that takes over when the daily turmoil from home, school or society occurs. In these daydreams, she receives what she lacks in real life: respect, adoration, popularity, and love.
A virtual slave at home, Precious finds a place for herself at an alternative school, where she meets teacher and mentor, Blu Rain (Paula Patton). Ms. Rain takes an interest in Precious, sensing her chaotic life and encouraging the teen to write, learn, strive and push herself to achieve. The teen finds a voice orally and in written word (journal) that gives strength to her thoughts and observations, many of them realized for the first time.
Precious slowly befriends her fellow classmates, studies for her GED, delivers her second child, a boy she names Abdul, and discovers a way out of her hellish existence at home. Devastating news only deepens her determination to direct her own life (and the lives of her children, one of whom has Down’s syndrome).
Aside from her teacher, Precious is aided by Ms. Weiss (Mariah Carey), a social worker who urges her to explore her painful past and divulge its secrets. This eventually leads to revelations from Mary about how the abuse (sexual, physical, and emotional) all started. A hospital worker (Lenny Kravitz) also befriends the teen, becoming her first male friend.
Welfare is both a lifeline and a death trap for Precious and her mother, who urges her daughter to do something useful. School is not the answer, only the constant refrain of “get your ass down to the Welfare Office.” It’s there that Precious states the circumstances of her first child’s birth. “…on the kitchen floor with my mom kickin’ me upside my head.” Precious delivers this information matter-of-factly, as if she were giving directions to the corner store.
Based on the novel Push by Sapphire and executive-produced by Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, who helped with promotion and distribution, Daniels’ film lets the camera tell you the story when Precious isn’t, showing us her dreams, frustration, joy, and newly discovered self-determination.
In her acting debut, Gabourey Sidibe inhabits the role with startling insight allowing us to experience her character’s bleakness that clings like a second skin. Sidibe accomplishes the nearly impossible: she makes us care about the “fat girl” who moves invisibly through society waiting to be acknowledged. She shows us the hurt that lives under the impassive expression, and the coping mechanisms that take over when turmoil strikes.
Mo’Nique fleshes out a monster mother, self-centered and seething with a palpable rage that burns as constantly as one of her cigarettes. She lashes out the hardest when her voice is the softest in a frighteningly ferocious performance. Paula Patton’s face radiates a confidence and a pro-active compassion that lets us know she is a warrior-advocate for Precious. Talk show host Sherri Shepherd (The View) has a supporting role as a tired, care-worn office worker at the alternative school. Lenny Kravitz is a compelling screen presence, imbued with a natural, understated charisma; this is his acting debut as well.
But it’s Mariah Carey’s performance that quietly blew me away. In her steady, believable, decidedly unglamorous portrayal of a dedicated social worker, Carey erases all vestiges of Glitter and replaces it with grit and a tightly controlled outrage. Carey plays her polar opposite (frumpy, plain, very un-diva) as if she were born into the role and deserves props for such a 180 reversal, full of cinematic integrity.
Ultimately, Precious is a story of the emancipation of a soul. What it lacks in pretty it makes up for in power. It is a harrowing journey through abuse, marginalization, realization, empowerment and acceptance. To some, it’s an all too familiar road trip; others might find it hard to relate to the grim violence-laden landscape. All will be moved by the obese teen from Harlem who, having had no hand in her circumstance, still manages to find a way to be the architect of her future. Though you’d never want to be in her shoes, you’ll be changed by walking with her a while.
In her search for dignity and acceptance Precious ultimately discovers that she is the most precious commodity of all.