It was The Wrestler last year, There Will Be Blood the year before. I was fortunate enough to have that awe-struck moment in January when I first saw Precious at Sundance. And now, several months later, I can proudly admit that I am still in complete awe of this film.
Everything you’ve heard about Precious, the hype and all that comes with it, is completely justified. This is a film that aims to shake you almost immediately, and never let you go for a second. The result is brutal, unflinching, and poignant as all hell.
Who would be interested in spending two hours watching a movie about a morbidly obese, illiterate, impoverished black girl in ‘80s Harlem? One that’s been beat up and beat down both emotional and physically by her parents since day one? Not too appealing. But suck it up; you’re in for one hell of an emotional rollercoaster.
After Precious (newcomer Gabourey Sidibe) is kicked out of public school for being pregnant, she enrolls in an alternative school, taught by the charming, understanding Ms. Rain (Paula Patton). Her new school is her only escape, because at home Precious is subjected to things most of us cannot even fathom. Her mother (Mo’Nique) is a complete monster of a human being. Never hesitant to throw a frying pan at her daughter, or remind her how stupid she is. Their apartment is a ghetto hell that shocked me to the core. The kind of living situation that makes you thankful for what you have.
Her mother’s only concern is welfare money, but to get that, Precious has to sit in on sessions with a tough-as-nails social worker (yes, that is Mariah Carey) which, in addition to her new school, acts as therapy for Precious’ dismal life.
Moving away from plot, let’s get to the important stuff. As Precious, Sidibe delivers a performance of such candid disarray that it will leave you utterly heartbroken. Her face is often clinched in tight anger, never letting anyone into her world. When she smiles, as she often does in beautiful, fantasy-like daydreams, it’s as if we’re watching a different actress. This is as good a debut performance as I’ve ever seen.
You’ve heard about Mo’Nique in this film, I’m sure. But nothing can prepare you. From the first moment she is on screen, you fear her. This is a woman that makes you stir in your seat, just with a grimacing stare. Seldom times do actors “get there” in films. Where they reach a point where they are no longer acting. They are their character. I have no idea what Mo’Nique’s method for acting is, but she has created one of the most repulsive, vicious characters in recent cinematic memory. Simply put: this is the best acting I’ve seen so far this year. From any person in any movie. Oscar… please?
Supporting performances by Patton and Carey are not to be overlooked. Patton actually has one of the hardest scenes in the film. She has the task of reacting to Sidibe after Precious explains how worthless and unloved she is. Patton’s role could’ve easily been a clichéd mess. But not in these capable hands.
When I first saw Precious, I had no idea that the social worker was played by Mariah Carey. Stripped of any makeup, attractive clothes or nice hair, Carey is an astounding revelation. You sit there in a daze, shocked at the subtle intensity of her performance. If Carey can deliver like this, you can expect much more film work from her. She may very well have a slot in the Supporting Actress category with Mo’Nique.
Lee Daniels only has one other film to his credit as a director (2005’s poorly received Shadowboxer), but that matters little. With the help of screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher, who adapted Sapphire’s searing novel, Daniels has created a haunting masterpiece. Unlike anything I’ve ever seen. When reading about this film you may suspect that it is a gritty downer. Such is not the case. Badness happens to Precious, of course, but somehow you’re left with a sense of clarity, importance. It’s quite remarkable, actually.
Take these two brief scenes as an example. Early in the film, Precious does her hair in front of the mirror in her bedroom. We see her staring at the mirror, but the reflection staring back isn’t Precious. It’s a blonde haired, blue eyed, Caucasian beauty. Later in the movie, Precious walks in front of a giant mirror in the lobby of an office building. She stares for a couple seconds at her own reflection. She finally sees herself. (I’m tearing up just writing about it). This is what Precious is all about: finding yourself amongst insurmountable pain.
This is the best film of the year, folks. Step outside your comfort zone a little. Do yourself a favor and see this film. I promise you will not regret it. Behold a thing of absolute wonder. A+