— by ALEXA MILAN —
Every year when awards season rolls around, a little-movie-that-could seems to emerge. Last year it was “Slumdog Millionaire,” which barely anyone had heard of before it rose out of the Toronto International Film Festival to become the year’s best picture winner. This year, that movie is “Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire,” which swept up awards at both Sundance and Toronto.
This gritty and inspiring film tells the story of Claireece “Precious” Jones (Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe), an overweight, illiterate teen from Harlem who is pregnant with her second child by her father. Precious has endured sexual abuse from her father and relentless verbal and physical abuse from her mother (Mo’Nique). She has gone through life generally unnoticed by everyone around her and without ever experiencing real love.
One day, at the recommendation of her principal, Precious is invited to attend an alternative school for troubled young people like herself where she may finally get the chance to excel. Inspired by her teacher Ms. Rain (Paula Patton), Precious finally sees her life moving in a new direction, but escalating problems at home may end up holding her back.
Narrated by Precious herself, she tells the audience of her thoughts, fears, hopes and dreams, reeling viewers in and allowing them to experience her emotional journey with her.
“Precious” is a film that is very difficult to watch at times, but it’s one people need to see. It’s a harrowing story, but also a hopeful one. It makes you think about the real Preciouses of the world, who suffer unthinkable abuse, are not given the chance of receiving a proper education and go largely unnoticed by the rest of society.
Newcomer director Lee Daniels captures Precious’ journey beautifully, balancing the tragedy of her story with hope for the possibility of a brighter future for her. Daniels also really knows how to pull great performances out of his actors.
Sidibe is a revelation as Precious. Sorrowful and heartbreaking yet also funny and charming, she is truly an engaging presence onscreen. Mo’Nique, known primarily for over-the-top comedies, is fantastic as Precious’ mother, playing her as cruel, ruthless and selfish in a completely realistic way. I’ll be shocked if both women don’t receive Oscar nominations for their efforts.
A virtually unrecognizable Mariah Carey also gives a strong, understated performance as Mrs. Weiss, Precious’ counselor.
The film is emotionally draining, but it’s a story that is important to tell. Daniels and team do a remarkable job, and “Precious” is definitely a must-see that should go at the top of your list of movies to catch in theaters before the year’s end.
Follow Alexa Milan on Twitter at http://twitter.com/alexamilan.