Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

While many reviewers are billing Precious as heart-warming , readily aligning the film with the nauseating sentimentality suffered by so many inner-city school dramas, don’t be fooled.

In truth, Lee Daniels remarkable film doesn’t so much warm your heart as take a razorblade and blowtorch to it.

Precious is an unflinchingly gritty, hard-boiled slice of social realism that at times makes for genuinely challenging viewing. And yet, despite the pain, its twist on the creaky triumph over adversity riff is utterly compelling and, somehow, profoundly joyous.

An adaptation of the award-winning novel Push, Lee Daniels film tells the story of Harlem teenager Claireece Precious Jones ( Gabourey Sidibe) and her struggle to overcome a daily routine of violence and degradation at the hands of her unstable mother and rapist father. Obese, illiterate, socially ill-equipped and mother of two children by her monstrous father, the odds against Precious seem insurmountable.

Upon being transferred to a special unit for problem students, the protagonist is offered her first real strand of hope through inspirational teacher Ms. Rain, played with fierce intelligence by Paula Patton.

The all female group learn to share their experiences, opening new possibilities for emotional expression to Precious.

Yet the film staunchly resists the fairytale ending you d expect from such a plot arc- The Basketball Diaries this is not. Rather, the onus rests on recognising the value of Precious life for what it is, not within the context of an overriding redemption.

Perhaps the most commendable aspect of Daniels film is the tremendous insight it gives us into Precious character. A series of imaginative fantasy scenes through the course of the film provide the audience with a candid window into her hopes, desires and deep insecurities, and such exposure fosters a real empathy for the character.

The counterweight to these bursts of colour and light come in the form of the traumatic, impressionistic rape scenes, which reveal the dark core of Precious ordeal.

In addition to Sidibe’s understated but powerful performance, Precious is propelled forward by a strong supporting cast. Mariah Carey supplies a notable turn as a jaded social worker, and comedian Mo’Nique succeeds admirably at inspiring genuine contempt as Precious demonic mother.

In the face of incest, rape and violence, there are moments when the movie’s defiant optimism is hard to swallow. Backlit throughout by a dumbfoundingly upbeat soundtrack, the viewer is frequently reminded that we are witnessing a vibrant time in the character’s youth. But when these few moments of tenderness are surrounded on all sides by an ocean of abuse and neglect, this is not easy to accept.

In particular, the last and most devastating twist in the plot sorely tests the film’s philosophy of self-empowerment. The fact that it doesn’t buckle completely is a testament to its conviction, and Daniels deserves high praise for tackling such tough issues head on.

All told, Precious is a rough ride, and certainly not for those hoping for an inner-city High School Musical. However, as a film that is unafraid to foreground inspiring, dazzling beauty in often senseless trauma, it is also a minor triumph.

Precious

110 mins

Dir: Lee Daniels

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