Sixteen year-old Precious (Sidibe) is illiterate, obese, physically and mentally abused, and pregnant (again) by her father. When an incident at school finally attracts attention, Precious grabs the lifeline offered by a teaching programme for problem girls.
Adapted from the award- winning novel Push by author/performance poet Sapphire, and counting Oprah Winfrey among its fans, Precious: Based On The Novel “Push” By Sapphire (to give it its full title) had more going for it from the outset than most ‘small’ indie films. Even so, little can prepare you for its raw power, and a heart-rending journey to self-acceptance and hope.
Producer-(Monster’s Ball)-turned-director Lee Daniels pulls off something that scarcely seems possible. We are challenged with a heroine initially hard to look at, so painfully extreme are her misery and despair. But almost immediately we get into her head, sharing her fantasy of being the fabulously frocked, idolised star at a red carpet event. We wince at her delusional crush, her bullying, at the magnitude of her self-loathing when she sees herself as a pretty, skinny blonde girl. Before long you are walking around in her shoes, fully experiencing her life.
Gabourey Sidibe can’t be detected acting. Her Precious maintains an impassive attitude, making all the more affecting the flashes of fear, anger or, more rarely, delight she exposes when pushed. Mo’Nique, better known as a stand-up comic, courageously plays a mother so monstrous she’d fit into a horror film except that her final, confessional confrontation is so agonisingly real, you’ll only wish you could forget it. In smaller roles, Lenny Kravitz charms as a compassionate nurse, and Mariah Carey may at last be forgiven for Glitter with her strong showing as the social worker who finally uncovers the horrifying story of Precious’ ‘home’ life.
Kudos, too, to British cinematographer Andrew Dunn, best known for his work at the more glamorous end of the spectrum (The Madness Of King George, Gosford Park), but here ably getting down and dirty and mixing things up with Precious’ flights of fantasy into what looks like a flashy TV game show world.
Precious is set in Harlem but is dedicated “to precious girls everywhere” and successfully makes one spare more than a 30-second TV appeal’s thought for all the children whose lives are socially expendable. It gets under the skin so well that seasoned journalists in a packed screening room cried out in unison at one cruelty after another. Seldom has one been so relieved by an uplifting outcome.
While it may not be perfect on a technical level, dramatically its a blow-your-socks-off triumph. Be moved. Very, very moved.