Reviewed By: Alex Ledebuhr
Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire Review
After 11 years, I finally watched Precious, directed by Lee Daniels (Lee Daniels’ The Butler, The Paperboy), and when I finally ran out of tears to cry, I still felt like crying. It’s safe to say that the film is a masterpiece. The performances were transformative, brutal, and honest. The writing and direction were unique, to say the least. The most accurate description is that it is truly a one of a kind film, which only comes around every decade or so. Precious deals with physical and sexual abuse, inner city/alternative schools, and illiteracy, which are societal issues that we still face today, making the film timeless.
In the film we follow Clarice Precious Jones, played by first-time actor Gabourey Sidibe (Antebellum, Empire), who is a pregnant, illiterate 16-year old (with one daughter already) living with her monster of a mother in Harlem, NY. Her mother Mary, played by Mo’Nique (Beerfest, Shadowboxer), is extremely verbally, emotionally, and physically abusive. She also doesn’t stop her boyfriend, who is Precious’s biological father, from raping and impregnating Precious, multiple times, instead holding the against Precious, because “she stole her man.” When it’s discovered that Precious is pregnant again, the principal of her school, played by Nealla Gordon (Lee Daniels’ The Butler, The Paperboy), kicks her out and sends her to an “alternative” school. Upon arrival Precious finds a no-nonsense, tough teacher by the name of Ms. Blu Rain, played by Paula Patton (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Déjà vu), who constantly pushes her students, including Precious.
When Ms. Rain finds out that Precious is illiterate, she goes the extra mile (that all cinematic teachers seem to go) to teach her how to read and write. All the while Precious deals with a constant stream of abuse at home, where she is forced to cook and care for her mother, while she is constantly told she is worthless. When the food isn’t up to her mother’s standards, she is forced to eat it, even if she isn’t hungry. The first interaction we see between them ends with Precious getting knocked unconscious with a frying pan to the back of the head for talking back. She is also forced to pick up welfare checks for her mother, as well as her cigarettes, and any other demeaning thing you could think of.
The film starts out in the gutters and just ends up getting dirtier and nastier throughout the 110-minute runtime. It’s an incredibly depressing movie, with glimmers of hope for a better life sprinkled about, through subjective “daydreams” Precious constantly sinks into in order to avoid the awful reality she lives in. Mo’Nique, who won the Oscar in 2010 for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, is transcendent as she puts her entire heart and soul into the role. She constantly berates and beats her daughter, sinking into a selfish, delusional existence where she blames her daughter for her (rapist) boyfriend leaving her. Even the films quick and witty editing and funny daydream interludes aren’t enough to tear us away from the absolute devastation Precious must endure daily.
When she isn’t being abused by her mom, her weight is constantly made fun of from classmates and even random people on the street. The only positive relationship in her life is Ms. Rain. Paula Patton does a fantastic job of playing Ms. Rain just right, because she must be a badass teacher who tolerates no nonsense, while also displaying a compassionate side, destined to ultimately save Precious, both metaphorically and literally. The other main potentially positive influence in her life is her social worker Ms. Weiss, played by Mariah Carey (Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Tennessee), who throughout the film tries to ultimately help Precious.
This movie is a perfect example of why it takes a special person to be a teacher or educator. There are some subtle instances, including the scene when she learns of Precious’ illiteracy, which demonstrate Ms. Rain’s ability to read between the lines, pun not intended. It seems other teachers in her life deemed Precious too difficult or stupid to try to teach further. It takes a determined Ms. Rain to crack her tough exterior and find out the real problem. Not only that, but her daily journaling assignments give Precious a much-needed outlet to process some of her incredibly difficult and traumatic issues. Without that initial breakthrough Precious would be stuck in the same shitty situation for the rest of her life, demonstrating the importance of multi-faceted awareness a teacher must possess.
The story displayed in Precious is probably far more common than we either wish or think, thus making it an incredibly important moment/film in cinematic history. It also marks the first time an African American director’s film was nominated for Best Picture as well as the first time and African American won the screenplay for Best Adapted Screenplay. I highly recommend this film, but be warned the subject material is, as the kids say, intense af. There is pervasive language as well as violence and child abuse, including sexual assault (rape). Lee Daniels held no punches in this dramatic telling of the worst kind of situation a kid can deal with. It does a great job of highlighting, again, how important it is to keep your eyes and ears open as a teacher/educator. To all the teachers/educators reading this, you never know, reaching out at the right moment could literally save a child’s life, so remain vigilant and remain steadfast; your work is appreciated.