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Friday, November 13, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW
Precious

Tales Of An Embattled Cinderella In Harlem


Gabourey Sidibe stars as the charismatic and traumatized Clarieece "Precious" Jones in Lee Daniels' film "Precious: based on
the best-selling novel by Sapphire".
    Lionsgate

By Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com
Friday, November 13, 2009

Powerful, memorable performances define the film festival-award winning "Precious", Lee Daniels' stunning effort based on Sapphire's best-selling novel Push.  Mr. Daniels' skilled direction of this hopeful and heartbreaking film is replete with an arresting collection of profound images that crystallize the title character's state of mind, and it is often a living hell. 

Precious (played impressively by newcomer Gabourey Sidibe) lives in Harlem in 1987 and is trapped.  Sixteen, pregnant and already a single mother, she's illiterate, overweight and barely surviving in a world of cruel young men, an abusive father and a mother that only a mother could love.  As the mother of Precious Mo'Nique is almost certain to be remembered at Oscar time.  Her performance as Mary is as chilly and frightening as any work on the big screen this year.  She's the personnification of tough love at its toughest. 

Mr. Daniels (who directed "Shadowboxer" and produced "The Woodsman" and the Oscar-winning "Monster's Ball") builds an unapologetic atmosphere of wretchedness and depair, and one can't help being angry and saddened at the horror Precious endures.  It is tempting at times to think that Mr. Daniels, who caught heat from some over Halle Berry's character in "Monster's Ball", is presenting an obese black woman as a negative, perpetual object of ridicule and subjugation, but one needs to look deeper at the tenderness and sincerity of both the filmmaker's aspirations and the main character's yearnings to understand the complexity and beauty of what at times is a striking story of insipiration. 

In many ways Precious sees beyond herself and Mr. Daniels trafficks less in stereotypes than he might in veiled color-coding that depicts almost every lighter-shaded black character in the film as a benevolent figure and most all darker-skinned blacks (save Precious) as destructive or bad personas.  Of course, life offers shades of bad and good in all people, and Mr. Daniels perhaps best offsets a crude slant with an unmistakable fact: the "dark and lovely" title character of this film generally embraces rather than hates herself.

Among the guardian angel types surrounding Precious are Paula Patton and Mariah Carey, who here sounds like Whoopi Goldberg in her role as a child services representative.  Ms. Patton is especially affecting as Miss Rain, Precious's remedial reading and writing schoolteacher.  There's an ideal of beauty fighting to soar amidst the ruins of a harsh life, an ideal that Miss Rain believes in so strongly and we feel it as deeply as she does.  For her work Ms. Patton deserves the same recognition that Mo'Nique will undoubtedly receive. 

On the page, Geoffrey Fletcher adeptly captures the inner ear of Precious in his screenplay and includes many lines of humor as a respite from some of the adversity.  Miss Sidibe is a natural presence, as real a performer as any decorated veteran.  Playing Precious gives the first-time feature film actress a stage which she commands in an elegant and humble way.  Andrew Dunn's cinematography is sharp, alternating deep, grimy tones of horror with angelic bright lights of transition and possibility.

As in prior films Mr. Daniels is proficient at calibrating and balancing the competing interests of anguishing moral dilemmas, and with "Precious" he strikes while the iron is scorching hot, smashing together forces of nature and cruel human circumstance and lacing them with taboo and an unwavering energy.  There's a gentility to both the embattled Cinderella of this film and to the filmmaking process that Mr. Daniels creates, even though Dante would heartily approve of the inferno of tragedy and pain that crackles so vividly here.

With: Sherri Shepherd, Lenny Kravitz, Stephanie Andujar, Chyna Layne, Amina Robinson, Xosha Roquemore, Angelic Zambrana, Aunt Dot, Nealla Gordon, Grace Hightower and Barret Helms.

Executive producers: Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry.

"Precious" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for child abuse including sexual assault, and pervasive language.  The film's running time is one hour and 50 minutes.

Read more movie reviews and stories from Omar here


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