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Review: Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
Starring Gabourey Sidibe, Mo'Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Sherri Shepherd, Lenny Kravitz
Rated R; currently playing at the Esquire Theatre
and AMC Newport

Lenny Kravitz and Gabourey Sidibe in Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
Lenny Kravitz and Gabourey Sidibe in Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphirewww.ncm.com

In a year of remakes, reboots, sequels, and coma-inducing, big budget brain candy, Precious has quietly crept onto the scene as one of the most brutally honest, slice-of-life films since Thirteen (which by the way, is another excellent film that will scare the daylights out of any parent raising a blossoming, pre-adolescent). The novel on which Precious is based was gleaned from the experiences of the teen girls that author Sapphire encountered while working as a literacy teacher.

Like the book, the film is set in Harlem in 1987 and is centered on Claireece Precious Jones (Sidibe), a 16-year-old illiterate and obese African American teenager who is sexually abused by her father and physically abused by her mother (Mo’Nique). Pregnant for the second time with her father’s child, Precious gets through these horrors by constantly daydreaming of a better, more glamorous life, one in which she is loved and respected. After a talk with the school guidance counselor (who is only vaguely aware of her harsh circumstances), Precious is sent to an alternative school where she can not only pursue an education in a more forgiving, conducive environment but can also learn to thrive socially. Despite this upward turn, the film does not suddenly forget Precious’ past, nor does it gloss over the trials that await her, thus keeping the tone realistic while still offering a glimmer of hope.

The best part of the film, however, is the powerhouse performances of both its newbie and veteran cast. Plucked out of obscurity at a casting call, Sidibe gives a searing, heart-wrenching performance as the title character. Despite all her daydreaming, she is honestly amazed when she meets people who treat her with warmth and compassion. Paula Patton and Mariah Carey also give noteworthy performances as Precious’ teacher and welfare counselor, respectively. (And in case you’re wondering, we can officially forgive Ms. Carey for the debacle that was Glitter.) But the biggest surprise is Mo'Nique’s absolutely astounding portrayal of Mary, Precious’ vicious, abusive mother. In one particularly gripping scene at the welfare office, Mary tearfully offers her version of the past, desperately seeking some sign of sympathy and understanding. The result, however, is utter repulsion at the notion that “she” is the victim.

Early Oscar buzz indicates that Mo’Nique, who up until now was best known for her comedic chops, is already a favorite to secure either the best actress or best supporting actress statuette come March. Either way, while Precious is not an easy film to watch and makes no apologies for its raw and often squeamish content, it still proves to be one of those rare movie-going experiences that reminds us how film truly can be an art form and a reflection of life at its most poignant.

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