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Life is Precious


If Slumdog Millionaire was last year’s little film that could, then Precious is 2010’s. It’s 1987 in Harlem, New York City and the future of Claireece Precious Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) is nothing less than dismal.

An illiterate, obese and abused teenager, Precious has just been kicked out of school after falling pregnant with her second child. This baby, like the one before, is the product of years of being raped by her father. Instead of protecting her daughter, Precious’s mother, Mary (Mo’Nique), blames her for “seducing” her man and violently abuses her.

No one loves her. No one values her. Nobody thinks she is precious. “Don’t nobody want you. Don’t nobody need you!”, her mother yells at her.

To escape the nightmare that is her life, Precious imagines herself as a star. As her father assaults her yet again and her mother throws another pan at her head, cameras flash around her while she signs autographs for adoring fans.

Despite her circumstances, Precious tries to forge ahead. She begins to attend an alternative school, where her teacher, Ms Rain (Paula Patton), instructs students to keep daily journals. Here, by penning her thoughts in her childish handwriting and bad grammar, Precious discovers an alternative life – one in which love is not equated with pain.

The film is grim and very difficult to watch. It feels as if you’re in a never-ending fistfight. Just when you lift your head after one punch, you’re being kicked in the gut and you’re left to wonder, how many knocks can one 16-year-old girl take before she doesn’t get up again?

And yet she does. After every blow, Precious pushes forward. Her children, her improving reading skills and Ms Rain make her realise that there is hope. People, like Ms Rain, have “a lot of things around them that shines for other peoples. I think that maybe some of them was in tunnels. And in that tunnel, the only light they had, was inside of them. And then long after they escape that tunnel, they still be shining for everybody else”. Almost without realising it, Precious also begins to escape her own tunnel and shines her own light.

Both Gabourey Sidibe and Mo’Nique are new to film – Sidibe has never acted in anything outside amateur theatre while Mo’Nique is better known as a stand up comedienne. Both actresses have been nominated for several awards for their roles, but it’s Mo’Nique who has been raking in the statuettes (she’s already won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress in a drama and looks set to get the nod from the Academy as well). Mo’Nique’s portrayal of so a godawful-a-mother is so potent that you want to hit her every time she strikes at Precious. Sensitive ears be warned though – Mary swears until you feel so dirty all the water in the sea couldn’t wash you clean.

Which is also kind of like the feeling you have after watching the whole film. It is profoundly moving and yet, as one critic said, completely affirmative – I left the tunnel of the cinema feeling as if I was carrying a torch with me.

Lee Daniels
Cast: Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz
Rating: 5 out of 5

One comment

  1. I’m VERY ambivalent about this film. The novel is delpey exploitative and manipulative, and has received lots of attention for being such in academic circles. Percival Everett wrote Erasure, an excellent book that contains a parody of Push within, in reaction to Sapphire’s novel. Yes, it’s written by a woman, and yes, it’s about an impoverished teenage mother, and, yes, it’s supposedly based on girls Sapphire came to know while teaching (though it’s a composite girl). I’m curious but also quite concerned…

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