Precious (7/10)

If you haven’t figured out the movie’s true intentions by the time Precious’s mother, Ruby, has sent a TV hurtling over a staircase in an attempt to crush Precious and her newborn beneath its weight, you probably never will. On the surface, it’s about the age-old tale of an oppressed person escaping an oppressing situation through sheer hard work and the unconditional love of non-oppressive people. “Precious” follows this formula to a “T,” but its intent is more subversive and clever than its plot would have you believe.
Precious (played with strength and and an easy-to-like vibe by newcomer Gabourey Sidibe) doesn’t just have a bad home life. She’s a morbidly obese African-American 16-year-old living in Harlem with a learning disability, a Down’s syndrome daughter courtesy of her father, another baby on the way (also thanks to her abusive dad, a ghost who wanders the story but has left Precious and Ruby long before the opening credits), and a mother who uses Precious to pleasure herself and routinely forces food down her throat while threatening to smack her silly. The movie, in the first ten minutes, redefines “stacking the odds” against a character. And the further into the movie you go, the more odds are piled on, like Ruby piling pig’s feet and macaroni onto Precious’s plate.

As is a prerequisite in these kinds of movies, Precious must triumph over her difficulties. When she is kicked out of school for being pregnant (clearly a plot device in the film), she enrolls in an alternative education program taught by Ms. Rain (Paula Patton in a heartfelt and endearing performance), the lesbian-with-a-heart-of-gold who’s only job in the movie is to care about inter-city kids and show Precious that she is loved. But in the midst of all these by-the-numbers scenes, director Lee Daniels injects humor into the proceedings by flipping genre convention on its head and turning the movie into something to be enjoyed instead of something to bawl and nod your head at seriously.

Daniels does this in several ways. Throughout most of the film, Precious, when life is particularly bad for her, goes off into her head for these fantasy sequences where she pictures herself as a famous singing, acting, and dancing star, carefree and lovin’ the life. This, coupled with the friendships she develops at the alternative school – a group of girls whose very presence and friendship chemistry brighten the movie – make it fun rather than a chore to sit through, but what truly puts “Precious” above the common “everything sucks for this person” movie is how cleverly Daniels turns the movie into a parody of such films.

Casual observers won’t notice it, but the very ridiculousness of some scenes makes this conclusion inevitable if you’re really paying attention. Mo’nique as Ruby doesn’t just play an abusive mother, she plays a flat-out awful person with no redeeming qualities whatsoever and doesn’t just call her daughter a bitch, doesn’t just call her daughter a fat bitch, no, she calls her a fat, black bitch. And she doesn’t just hate Precious, she hates everything that gets in the way of her cigarettes, her TV, and her cats. Screw merely beating Precious with her fists, why not smack her with a frying pan? Why not throw a glass across the room at her? Why not send a fifty-pound TV careening through the air to try to explode the life from Precious’s body? And Precious doesn’t just have one baby from her dad, she has two! So the fun ensues from watching how many difficulties can possibly be piled up against the protagonist, how far the story can go before it becomes too clearly a parody and loses its resonance.

Judging from critical reaction to this film and its Best Picture nomination, the film goes just far enough to fool un-observant viewers into thinking they’ve got a real taste for that kind of life, while the film snickers behind their backs, knowing it has simultaneously skewered this view while showing how no movie can ever accurately or honestly summarize such real-life difficulties, and the inherent insanity of trying. In its own way, “Precious” is kind of a brilliant movie, that, though flawed, says more about real-life trials than most of its ilk ever do.


2 Responses to “Precious (7/10)”

  1. There is something about this movie that really moves you and makes you try to appreciate what you have! I watched it and there was something about the actors in it to tell me that everything will be okay! This is a movie that people will enjoy and be sitting at the edge of their seats to see what will happen next!

  2. You have the mother’s name wrong I believe. It is ‘Monique’, and Ruby is the name of the little girl that wants to play with her.

    It is believed the little girl symbolizes Precious’s lost child inside, which explains the last scene where Ruby’s mother disappears, and Precious showing love to young Ruby which shows Precious has finally learned to love herself.

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