The Full List of Big Thoughts From A Small Mind's 2009 Reviews.
This review was originally posted in my 2009 Toronto Film Festival Recap. The review has been re-posted as the film will finally be released in select cinemas today
Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire
Winner of the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival's top prize, The Peoples Choice Award, Precious is a film that packs a very heavy punch. It is 1987 in Harlem and Claireece “Precious” Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) is barely sixteen and already pregnant with her second child. Living with her emotionally and physically abusive mother (Mo’Nique), Precious constantly dreams of a better life. Unable to neither read nor write, and facing expulsion from school, Precious is forced to attend the Each One/Teach One alternative school. Can this school provide Precious with a way out of her miserable life? Or was she merely cursed from birth?
I am hesitant to heap too much praise on this film for I fear that adding to the buzz Precious has already generated might only speed up the backlash towards the film. Still, I cannot deny that Precious finally cements Lee Daniel’s as a director. He skillfully blends the dark themes with the more accessible moments far better here than he did in either The Woodsman or Shadowboxer. This is not to say that Precious is an easy film to watch. On the contrary, the film is extremely bleak and unrelenting. No matter how many times you tell yourself “her life cannot get any worse…” it does. Daniels smartly incorporates just the right amount of fantasy sequences in the film. This allows him to pull Precious, and the viewer, out of the sewage long enough to take a quick gasp of air before being submerged again. Daniels is wise not to overplay these moments as he keeps the dream sequences somewhat grounded.
Regardless of how you feel about the subject matter, there is no denying that the Precious features two of the finest female performances you will see all year. Mo’Nique is simply brilliant as Precious’ abusive mother. She brings so much intensity and emotion to the role that, even though you despise her, you fully understand her motivations. While Mo’Nique is already generating a lot of award buzz, and rightfully so, newcomer Gabourey Sidibe deserves some as well. Due to the nature of the subject matter, the film really lives and dies on Sidibe’s performance. Thankfully Gabourey rises above the extremely high bar that both Daniels and Mo’Nique have set. Gabourey Sidibe does such a wonderful job finding that dark uncomfortable place for Precious that you barely notice some of the more well-known cast members in supporting roles (e.g Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz, etc). While I highly recommend Precious, you should try and see the film before the hype gets out of control. Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire works best if you go in without too many preconceived notions.