PRECIOUS. Starring Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey and Leny Kravitz. Directed by Lee Daniels. Rated MA 15+ (strong themes and coarse language). 110mins.
Based on an award-winning novel by poet and essayist, Sapphire, from her time as a social worker and teacher with deprived and abused children, Push, this is a very moving film about a subject with which moviegoers will be familiar.
But, here it is presented so well and movingly.
The basic narrative is straightforward: the late 1980s, a completely dysfunctional family in the Bronx, where the pregnant 16-year-old Claireece Precious Jones (already the mother of a daughter who has Down Syndrome by her father), lives with her indolent and abusive mother.
One of the distinguishing features of the film is that at moments of deep hurt and crisis, Precious retreats into her imagination where she is beautiful, successful and admired.
These imaginings the audience is privy to. But Precious is a very big girl and this causes insults to be poured on her.
Praised by her maths teacher and supported, though at first quite ungratefully, by the principal, Precious is advised to go to a special Each/Teach organisation run by Miss Blu Rain, an elegantly beautiful, intelligent and sensitive woman.
The rest of the plot might be anticipated but it is seeing Gabourey Sidibe’s performance and her eliciting our interest and sympathy that makes the film worthwhile.
The other performances are also strong: comedienne Mo’nique as the slatternly mother, Paula Patton as Miss Rain, singer Lennie Kravitz as a male nurse and Mariah Carey as the social supervisor.
The screenplay pulls very few punches: school behaviour, violence at home, incest, teenage pregnancy and motherhood, childbirth, choices for adoption or opportunity for development, illiteracy, lack of self-esteem, lesbianism, racism.
But, this is all presented with such conviction and compassion that it wins audience hearts and minds.
Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.