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The Independent Critic

STARRING
Gabourey Sidibe, Mo'Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz
DIRECTED BY
Lee Daniels
SCREENPLAY
Geoffrey Fletcher
Sapphire (novel)
MPAA RATING
Rated R
RUNNING TIME
110 Mins.
DISTRIBUTED BY
Lionsgate
 "Precious" Review 
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It pisses me off.

I'm not talking about the story behind "Precious: Based Upon the Novel Push by Sapphire," because pissed off would be putting it lightly when it comes to the story of Claireece "Precious" Jones (newcomer Gabourey Sidibe), a 16-year-old pregnant with her father's baby for the second time in Lee Daniels' award-worthy flick.

No, I'm talking about you.

Yes, you.

YOU the American moviegoer. You piss me off.

This weekend you will stand in line by the thousands spending millions of dollars to view "Twilight Saga: New Moon," a glossy, stylized, hyped up teenybopper, emo soap opera without an ounce of genuine emotion in the damn thing.

I don't begrudge you your escapist entertainment. I truly don't. I understand that in your own special little way you're living vicariously through the faux romanticism of Edward and Bella and Jacob and all those hottie vampires and werewolves.

But, in the shadow of "Twilight Saga: New Moon" there exists a wondrous, magical, heartbreaking yet inspiring film that deserves your attention.

Quite simply, it's "Precious."

Based upon a novel called "Push" by Sapphire, "Precious" is the story of Claireece "Precious" Jones. Precious is, by practically anyone's definition, a throwaway child.

Precious is stupid, or so it seems.

Precious is fat.

Precious is poor.

Precious has been sexually abused by her father, resulting first in the birth of "Mongo," her baby with Down's Syndrome, and now her second pregnancy.

Precious lives with her mother, Mary (stand-up comic Mo'Nique), a harrowing beast of a woman whose abuse of Precious is vicious and relentless.

So, I understand why you would want to escape to the fantasy world of "Twilight Saga: New Moon."

It's safe.

It's sweet.

It's romantic.

Go ahead. See "Twilight Saga: New Moon," but then have some balls and take yourself across the theatre to see what brilliant acting and filmmaking actually looks like."

See "Precious."

Despite the pain, graphic and shocking, contained within "Precious," few films have ever soared with the heart, spirit and inspiration as "Precious" soars in the decidedly sure hands of director Lee Daniels.

Have you ever known someone resilient? Someone who seemed to face obstacle after obstacle after obstacle and yet kept ALWAYS bouncing back seemingly against all the odds?

Such a person is Claireece "Precious" Jones," a young lady who has every reason in the world to give up, collect her welfare check and keep the cycle of abuse and poverty going on. After all, nobody expects anything from her. Every person in her life finds her worthless.

Until Ms. Blue Rain (Paula Patton).

After being kicked out of school following her second pregnancy, Precious is assigned to an alternative school with an alternative attitude.

Suddenly. Unexpectedly. Someone believes.

Maybe.

The wonder of Lee Daniels' film is that even those familiar with Sapphire's novel will never be 100% sure where the film is headed, so convincing are the performance of the ensemble cast and so stunningly authentic are the performances. Daniels doesn't, as Sapphire didn't, opt for easy out, Hollywood-style romanticized quick fixes and happy endings.

On the contrary, Precious discovers hope along the way but, as nearly any survivor of abuse would tell you, having hope does not a happy ending make.

It takes more than hope.

It takes courage.

It takes sweat.

It takes hard work.

It takes human connection.

Oh yeah, and it takes a little luck, too.

As the 16-year-old young girl in a young woman's body, newcomer Gabourey Sidibe offers up one of the most power, mind-altering and devastating debut performances ever and easily one of 2009's top performances by an actress. Practically assured an Oscar nomination, a win isn't out of the question for the 24-year-old Sidibe, who'd responded to an open audition call and whose background had been primarily local theatre in New York City. Sidibe's performance is gritty yet graceful, heartbreaking yet wholly inspiring.

As wondrous as is Sidibe, hers is not even the film's finest performance. There are two words I never thought I'd mutter in the same sentence...Mo'Nique. Oscar.

Mo'Nique. Oscar.

Indeed, stand-up comic Mo'Nique, a larger than life actress whose portrayals in films like "Phat Girlz" and "Beerfest" have been nothing more than half-assed caricatures, gives a career-defining performance as Mary, a jealousy-driven and hateful beast of a woman whose abuse of Precious is so devastating that it's nearly impossible to watch. Having trashed virtually all of Mo'Nique's previous film work, there are simply no words that are adequate to describe her revelatory performance here including a final, climactic scene in which Mary's journey itself unfolds in devastating fashion.

If anyone other than Mo'Nique goes home with the golden statuette this year, it will be nothing less than a gross injustice.

Healing doesn't happen, at least not very often, without the discovery of human connection and, for Precious, it comes in the form of Ms. Blu Rain, her teacher, Nurse John (Lenny Kravitz) and, to a lesser degree, caseworker Ms. Weiss (Mariah Carey), whose sense of accountability gives her needed structure even though her therapeutic techniques are obviously misguided.

Patton, in particular, offers an immensely satisfying performance as the teacher who refuses to give up on Precious, while rocker Lenny Kravitz and pop star Mariah Carey both surprise with the depth and clarity of their performances.

Lee Daniels, who also produced the underrated "The Woodsman" and "Monster's Ball," mines similarly challenging material here yet does so with an awareness that his audience can only handle so much before needing an escape, a breath, a laugh or a fantasy. While his breaks are relatively brief, Daniels times them well as the sheer relentlessness of this story is emotionally exhausting and when, suddenly, we are gifted with a daydreaming fantasy with Precious or even just an uncomfortable laugh it becomes a desperately needed act of mercy.

Cinematographer Andrew Dunn's camera work is outstanding, perfectly capturing the hopelessness of Precious's life while intertwining it with the ways in which Precious periodically escapes into a different world, a safer world, a world where she just might be okay "as is." While these fantasy scenes, at times, feel a touch gratuitous and manipulative, they are likely a cinematic necessity if "Precious" is to attract the wider audience it so richly deserves.

Go ahead.

See "Twilight Saga: New Moon" this weekend.

I know you want to. Maybe, you even need to.

But, do yourself a favor and take a chance on Claireece "Precious" Jones, a seemingly throwaway child who may, in fact, may be the most beautiful young woman to hit the American big screen in 2009.

Precious.

Indeed.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic 
    The Official Rating Guideline
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