Thursday, 4 February 2010
FILM REVIEW: PRECIOUS
Based on the Novel 'Push' By Sapphire
Icon Film Distribution
Lee Daniels is a casting agent making just his second feature film as a director. Known for casting Halle Berry in her against type, Oscar winning role in Monster's Ball (2001), Daniels obviously has an eye for an actor's potential. In Precious, he gets uniformly strong performances from his eclectic cast, which includes singers Lenny Kravitz and Mariah Carey, but none better than from his leading lady, first time actress Gabourey Sidibe, and comedienne turned dramatic actress, Mo'Nique.
Sidibe is Claireece 'Precious' Jones, an overweight teenager who has already had one child to her father and is expecting another, both as the result of rape. Did I mention this is heavy going stuff? Precious lives with her mother, Mary (Mo'Nique), a woman for whom the word grotesque seems both specifically designed yet somehow inadequate. Mary abuses her daughter both verbally and physically, resents her for "stealing her man's love”, and uses Precious's her first born, who lives with Mary's mother, merely as a means for receiving welfare cheques.
It's when Precious is moved to an alternative school and the classroom of Ms Rain (Paula Patton) that the possibility of another way of life is gleamed. The barely literate Precious blossoms under her kindly teacher, developing her written skills and slowly coming out of her shell. But this is no Dead Poets Society.
There's much more darkness to be endured before we reach what hope there is at the end of this tunnel. Not that it's all doom and gloom. Precious's classmates provide much needed humour and Patton's Ms Rain is a beacon of positivity in world – 1980s Harlem – seriously lacking in healthy role models, female or male; other than Kravitz's male nurse, and the spectre of Precious's father, men are conspicuous by their absence in the film.
The film has been praised as much for its toughness as it has been criticized for its depiction of African Americans. Granted, a white director could not have made this film without being labelled 'racist', but Daniels, black (and gay, if it matters), and screenwriter Damien Paul, working from the original text by poet and author Sapphire (hence the mouthful title), are depicting a specific set of circumstances: time, place and people.
Daniels has also drawn from personal experience, admitting to his own physical abuse as a child. It are these memories which inspire the film's fantasy sequences: whenever the horrors of her world become too much, Precious retreats to a 'happy place', where she is a feted celebrity and loved by a light skinned young man. Some of these sequences work, others don't and admittedly, for all his achievements here, Daniels' talent for casting and working with actors is far stronger than his direction.
It is the performances that make the film. Sidibe and Mo'Nique have both been nominated for Oscars and it will be a surprise if the latter doesn't walk away with the Supporting Actress statuette. But Sidibe is equally as good, her stillness belying the emotions inside Precious; emotions that will get to you by film's end.