Precious: Based on the novel 'Push' by Sapphire thunders with misery and every deprivation under the sun. But that doesn't stop you from secretly hoping that Clarice Precious Jones, the film's impossible-not-to-love title character, will somehow triumph in a fairytale ending. She doesn't, and this is what makes the film so powerful.
When the film opens, Precious is an illiterate 15-year old girl, pregnant, and trapped in a nightmarish cycle of poverty and abuse. Repeatedly raped by her father, and blamed for it by her diabolical couch potato mother, Precious (Gabourey 'Gabby' Sidibe) can't see any future for herself beyond the welfare office.
When she is kicked out of school for not wanting to discuss her second pregnancy, she ends up at an alternative program housed in a run-down hotel and frequented by other wayward teens. Here she meets an extraordinary teacher named Blu Rain (Paula Patton), whose no-bullshit approach to life changes Precious's perspective and shapes her future.
Without ever making her life seem sociological, director Lee Daniels infuses Precious's journey with hard realism and even harder knocks. The systemic nature of poverty is shown, rather than told, and the many instances of violence against women are depicted through various characters, revealing the cyclical pattern of women's disempowerment.
Sidibe is captivating as Precious. Steering her 250 lb. bulk through dilapidated New York City streets, she so brilliantly channels her character in voice, body language, and expression, that you sometimes feel like you are watching a documentary. Yet beneath the tough carapace, Sidibe also invokes pathos, particularly in the heartbreakingly candid voice-overs that run through the film. In one, she deadpans: "My name is Clareece Precious Jones. I want to be on the cover of a magazine. I wish a had a light-skinned boyfriend with good hair. But first I want to be in one of those BET videos."
Mary, Precious's mother, is played by actress and comedian Mo'Nique, whose performance as an abusive manic-depressive will raise hairs on the back of your neck. Additionally, celebrity guest appearances as overworked, underpaid public service workers are furnished by Mariah Carey, who strips off the glitter to play social worker, and Lenny Kravitz, whose muscles ripple noticeably under his blue nurse's scrubs.
In the second lead role as the gorgeously named Blu Rain, Paula Patton is restrained and dignified as Precious's mentor and confidante, carrying scenes with mellow control and a seriously mega-watt smile. At times you wish the script, or director, would have allowed her to momentarily freak out of utilitarian teacher mode, if only to remind us that teachers are people too. But this is Precious's film, after all, and Patton does right by not trying to compete with her co-star's incontestable shine.
Precious offers no easy resolutions or wish-granting fairy godmothers, which might come as a rude surprise for people who had hoped our heroine would end up on BET. However, for those who understand that dreaming about being on TV is sometimes a metaphor for wanting to be recognized as a person deserving of dignity, respect, and love, Precious is a beautiful and ultimately hopeful film, even without the happy ending.