Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire – 2009
This movie was good, but it was difficult to watch. It is hard to watch mental, emotional, and physical abuse. It isn’t easy to be a casual observer of acts of absolute cruelty, especially towards a child or young adult. But that is what Precious is about. That, and how that child eventually learns to fight back and take control of her life through education.
Precious, played by first time actress Gabourey Sidibe, is a sixteen year old, morbidly obese, black girl growing up in Harlem in the late 1980s. Her mother Mary, played by Mo’nique is one of the meanest pieces of work I’ve ever seen on film. She is pure poison on feet. She treats her daughter like a domestic slave, calls her fat, calls her worthless and stupid, and tells her things like she should have aborted her before she’d been born. She also has a habit of hurling thing at her daughter’s head. She seems to hate Precious with a passion.
Precious goes through her meaningless existence taking in nothing but abuse, and giving out nothing, not even anger or contempt. She learns nothing in school and has no desire to improve her life. She barely cares when she is kicked out of school for being pregnant with her second child. Her first is a girl with downs syndrome who lives with her grandmother. And we learn that the father of both her children is her father, Mary’s boyfriend, who raped her. And if all that weren’t bad enough, we later learn that when she was raped, she was infected with the AIDS virus.
But Precious’ life is saved by a single act of kindness. A teacher who cared went out of her way to tell Precious of a special kind of alternative school that would take her in. She goes just to get out of her home and be away from her mother. There, Precious meets Ms. Blu Rain, played by Paula Patton. Ms. Rain teaches for the joy of teaching. She inspires Precious to begin her education. Precious is illiterate, so Ms. Rain teaches her to read and write. As she learns, she becomes aware that there is a world outside the horrible situation. Eventually, Precious develops a desire for learning so that she can be a good mother to her babies. She goes to see a social worker named Ms. Weiss, played by Mariah Carey. Ms. Weiss learns of the abuse and the incestuous rape, and attempts to act as a counsellor.
Precious does well in school and eventually gains enough self-confidence to recognize the wrongness of the abuse she constantly endures from her mother. When she goes into labor, she is taken to the hospital where she meets a friendly male nurse named John, played by Lenny Kravitz After giving birth to her second child, a boy she names Abdul, she returns home. Mary screams at Precious, accusing her of ruining her life. Precious fights back to protect Abdul and the two get into a violent skirmish. Precious takes Abdul and flees out onto the snowy streets before Mary can kill her or her baby. She goes to the only person she can think of, Ms. Rain, who takes her and her baby in from the cold.
As I was watching the movie, I found myself wondering how many children have to grow up in such an unsafe and unhealthy environment. How many children are as unloved as Precious? This film is a testament to them, to every one of them who is able to get away and improve their lives, the ones who find the strength to hope for something better. It is just frightening to imagine how many children have to endure that kind of cruelty and abuse.
Of all the actors in the film, the ones who caught my attention were Mo’Nique and Mariah Carey. First of all, Mo’Nique played such an awful character, I don’t know if I could have done it. How does any actor believably play such a monster? Before watching this film, I didn’t know the first thing about her, but now I can’t imagine her not winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for this film. Fortunately, she did. She was frightening and incredible at the same time. The scene in which she describes why she hated Precious so much was so intense! Mary admits that the sexual abuse had started when Precious had been three years old. Her boyfriend had preferred having sex with the toddler more than her, but she allowed it so that he wouldn’t leave her. Mo’Nique played Mary’s breakdown in front of Ms. Weiss perfectly, letting the mentally unstable craziness bubble to the surface in an almost sickening way.
Carey was also good. She act her part well, completely transforming her physical appearance to that of a homely social worker. It was a complete contrast to her glamorous persona as one of the world’s biggest pop stars. The change was appropriate for the role, but I almost didn’t recognize her. And of course, Sidibe was also good. She was impressive, considering this was her first film. She took us on a difficult journey, making us believe and take notice of what she could do.