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Film Review


Few films have depicted such a sad tale of the underclass as does director Lee Daniels, with a reality and power that we might expect from a film by the Dardennes Brothers (Belgium), but not from an American director. Daniels, whose credits include Monster's Ball, shows us the horrible life of a hugely overweight 16 year old black girl living in Harlem, Claireece Precious Jones. The story is taken from the 1996 novel, Precious, by Sapphire (the pen name of a poet). Precious lives with her mother, a monster in the form of a person, cruel, unloving, always cursing and throwing things at Precious, and reminding her that she was stupid not to have aborted Precious. Precious is pregnant with her second child. The father is her father, and her mother, rather than directing her rage at the father, blames Precious. So given the story line, who in the world would want to see this film? But in fact, Daniels has made a masterpiece of a film, definitely raw and gritty, that shows us the enormous determination and inner strength that Precious musters to begin her slow ascent out of her hell of a life. Even outside her home, Precious is constantly being harassed and abused. All the while, she is narrating her thoughts. She often retreats into fantasies, which make her a star, basking in the adoration of her fans. One of the saddest is the image of her staring into a mirror, and a blonde white girl stares back.

One day Precious catches the attention of the principal of the nearly all black school she attends. The principal, sensing that there is something more behind the hugeness of the girl, tells her about an alternative school. Although Precious has no idea what an alternative school is, she shows up at the building in lower Manhattan. She finds herself one of six troubled girls who are being taught by a talented and patient teacher, Blu Rain, played by Paula Patton. Blu soon discovers that Precious cannot even read. Blu pays attention to Precious, who begins to understand that she is not stupid and can rise above her terrible circumstances. Circumstances that Blu herself doesn't fully understand until later. Precious stays with Blu for awhile, and is amazed to hear Blu talking to her lover "like a TV station I never watch". Blu is gay and Precious gives an insightful narrative about how "homos have never hurt me", and in fact, Blu is the first person who has ever really cared for Precious. In order to get a welfare check, Precious has to talk to a social worker, Miss Weill, played by Mariah Carey. Weill discovers much of the secret, and has a climatic meeting with the mother that is among the most moving and powerful that I have ever seen.

Daniels has made an extraordinary film about a horrible story, with fantastic acting by every single one of the actors. Except for an initial glimpse of the father and a sympathetic nurse, there are no men in this film. The performance of a young Gabourey Sidibe (New York born and raised actress) as Precious, is phenomenal, and surely will garner an Oscar nomination. Mo'Nique, the comedian/actress, is amazing as the mother, and Patton and Carey are equally wonderful. Again, few American films have had this level of acting. Cinematography is excellent; most of the scenes are set in interiors, and there are long takes of the faces. I loved Precious, and it will definitely make my ten best list for the year. It is wrenching and powerful, but a great great film. Now playing at the Kabuki.

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