Precious picked up two Oscars at the recent awards show. I wasn’t as impressed with the movie as some, but it’s certainly worth checking out. And be thankful for your own life and parents. Very thankful. It’s hard to imagine a worse life than the one lived by Clareece “Precious” Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) in 1987 Harlem. She’s 16, obese, illiterate, and pregnant with her second child. Her mother, Mary (Mo’Nique), could be the single worst human being on the face of the earth, and that includes both Hitler and the Unibomber. She abuses Precious physically, mentally, and sexually, continuing the family tradition started by Precious’ father before he left. The apartment where Precious lives with her welfare mother is a place so unfeeling that they call Precious’ first baby, who has Down’s Syndrome, “Mongo,” short for Mongoloid.
Precious is one of those films that puts its main character through horror in order to give her some hope on the other end. While at turns depressing and uplifting, the film is a little too heavy-handed to be truly great. Director Lee Daniels (Monster’s Ball) and writer Geoffrey Fletcher aren’t particularly subtle in getting the message across that Precious has undergone tragic damage at the hands of her parents. They also succumb to the clichéd “escapist fantasy sequences” that you sometimes see when a character has to deal with a reality they don’t want to face. But they do give Precious awesome lines like “These people talk like TV shows I don’t watch.”
Precious, as played by newcomer Sidibe, has brains, a sense of humor, and a drive to be something more than what life and Mary have planned for her. She is supported in her drive to escape by her alternative-school teacher, Blu Rain (Paula Patton), who not only has a ridiculously improbable name but acts in a ridiculously improbable manner, bordering on sainthood, to give Precious a chance to escape Mary’s house of horrors. Mrs. Weiss (a nearly unrecognizable Mariah Carey) is a social worker trying to get Precious to face some of the things that have happened to her.
Although men both wrote and directed the film, it is the quartet of women -- Mo’Nique, Sidibe, Carey, and Patton -- who carry the film with performances ranging from good to powerhouse. Mo’Nique recently picked up a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, and while it’s tough to watch her at times, she does make for a fascinating and charismatic character. Sidibe makes the sometimes cartoonish Precious into a realistic young woman to care about. Carey and Patton don’t always come across as believable, but they are, each in their own way, compassion personified.
The movie isn’t as unique or powerful as it seems to think it is, but it will give the viewer a picture of a world and lifestyle that is so alien it seems to come from another world. Precious’ triumphs are pleasing and the performances are worthwhile. Not always an easy movie to watch, but worth seeing. Precious is basically an independent film that had the good fortune to attract the attentions of Oprah and Tyler Perry, who agreed to “present” the movie. This, combined with the strong critical reaction and multiple Oscar nominations, probably contributed to this being a fairly robust DVD release. The movie has a lot of intricate shots in dark locations, but the DVD picture is clear and crisp. The sound is also very good, but Gabourey Sidibe speaks in such a mumbling dialect for much of the movie that turning on the subtitles is not a bad idea until you get a feel for what she is saying.
Director Lee Daniels and Sapphire, the author of the book “Push,” dominate the extras. Daniels contributes an audio commentary and almost immediately notes that he might not talk much because the movie is so powerful for him that all he can do is watch. He should probably get over it in order to make the commentary a little better, but he does talk enough. His comments are low key and disjointed, but they do provide a bit of background to the film. If this movie really touches you, listening to the commentary the second time around is probably worth it.
Sapphire and Daniels are both featured heavily in “From ‘Push’ to Precious,” about the writing of the book and transformation to screenplay and movie, as well as in “A Conversation with Author Sapphire and Director Lee Daniels,” which is just what it sounds like. I hate forced conversations between two contributors like this. They always seem stilted and forced, and this is no exception. The featurette about the writing of the book, which is 15 minutes long, is more interesting, as both Sapphire and Daniels speak passionately about the subject matter and getting the film made in the more structured interview.
There is one deleted scene that lasts about two minutes and features Precious at an incest survivors meeting. I can’t imagine why it was cut out, other than she states in the meeting that she hated herself for starting to like it and maybe they didn’t want to get that message across. It’s a good scene, and the movie isn’t so long that they couldn’t have left it in. Sidibe’s two-minute audition where she tells her class she has AIDS is also included, and it’s almost exactly how it was played in the movie itself. There is a featurette called “A Precious Ensemble” about the cast. Daniels mostly talks about why the person was cast and the actor talks about their role. Nothing new, but since this is the heart of the movie, it’s appreciated.
Since Oprah and Tyler Perry are the biggest names associated with this project, they get their own 10-minute featurette called “Oprah and Tyler: A Project of Passion.” It gives a good sense of how much they actually contributed to the film…nothing, it was already completed when they came on board. They did help to bring it to a bigger audience, and that’s why Perry’s comments are somewhat interesting. He notes that the language bothered him, since his audience is “church-goers.” He also said that Mary is just like his own father, which makes me sad for Tyler Perry, since no one should have to live through that. Oprah mainly just says she was so moved she could barely speak when she saw that movie, and other such inanities.
Finally, there is a trailer and some 20-second (literally) musings by a few cast and crew on what the film means. It really is a good selection for this type of film, and overall it enhances the movie by making the DVD a pretty good pick-up. Even the more casual watcher who wasn’t blown-away by the movie like most people were will get something out of at least renting the DVD and watching a few extras.
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