How did this extraordinary movie come to be?


An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


            If you are tempted to stay away from “Precious” because you hate violence, be warned that the emotional, verbal, and physical abuse in this movie is probably worse than you imagine; be assured also that the acting overwhelms the brutality. So real is the feel of this movie that during an early scene, I jumped involuntarily in my seat, ready to wrestle the on-screen mother to the floor to stop her rage. It is likely, if you go, that you too will be captured by this inner city world from first frame to last.

            How did this extraordinary movie come to be? It happened at the hands of director Lee Daniels who was rejected by every studio he approached and finally found investors in a suburban Denver couple who believed in his proposal to film the novel Push by Sapphire.

            As powerful as the story itself is, Daniels’ quirky casting is critical to the authenticity of the final film. Credit his judgment in choosing stand-up comedian Mo’Nique to play a monstrous mother and an unknown, Gabourey Sidibe, to play Precious, the 350 lb. daughter who is subject to abuse on all sides – at home, in the streets, and at school. Would you have picked Mariah Carey to play the social worker? She’s terrific.

            Fine support flows from supporting actors who have managed to absorb Daniels’ vision so thoroughly that all of them play in the same key – no moralizing, no sentimentalizing, just a straight presentation of a slice of awful life. This is not a movie about a child rising from poverty to success. It is a story of the mere survival of a spirit that has been brutalized by two horrific parents. When we meet her, Precious is illiterate and pregnant by her father.

            When she is chosen for an alternative school by a sharp eyed teacher, her chances for escape rise minimally. She comes under the tutelage of Blue Rain (Paula Patton), a quietly confident teacher who simply assumes that she will be able to help all the students in her classroom. Paula Patton is superb as she conveys Ms. Rain’s certainty that she can help her students beat the odds.

            Precious, however, carries more baggage than the others. Inside the body that has made her an object of ridicule, Gabourey Sidibe’s Precious has a deep sense of herself that peeks out from her expressionless face. In all the film though, it is Mo’Nique who delivers the punch to the gut of the audience. She is the embodiment of the horror of ignorance and blind cruelty. Toward the end, in an astonishing scene with Mariah Carey, she explains herself so convincingly in a short, horrific monologue that for the second time she drew me into that movie as if I were there in the room. It is, of course, your choice whether to go, but if you do, you will see some powerful ensemble acting with deep roots in reality.


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