You can always tell who the people are who saw Precious as they leave the theater. They’re the ones who are shuffling down the hallways, staring at their feet in a blank look that may or may not have a hint of suicidal thoughts behind it. Yikes! This movie is almost in the same realm as Requiem for a Dream or American History X in the way that it’s full contact cinema. You don’t sit back and enjoy this movie; this movie sits back and kicks your ass. But in this case, it doesn’t make it a great movie. The story is about a 16-year-old girl named Precious who has one of the most horrible, abusive lives you can possibly think of. Go ahead and think of something horrible you can do to a human being; chances are that happens to Precious. The title role is played wonderfully by a young newcomer named Gabourey Sidibe. Her vulnerability is admirable as she’s the opposite of every single leading actress in Hollywood, yet she carries herself with a confidence that most don’t. There are also some shockingly great performances from Lenny Kravitz and Mariah Carey…yeah, THE Kravitz and Carey. You probably won’t recognize them though–unless they’re pointed out to you–due to weight gain, lack of make up and a killer accent on Carey. Sherry Shepard (30 Rock, The View) also shows up in a near disguise performance as well. The real star of the film, however, is Mo’Nique…comedian Mo’Nique. Never did I ever think that I would say the sentence “Mo’Nique should win an Oscar,” but here I am saying it. She gives one of the best performances of the year, and possibly of the last decade, from a woman. Her entire role is disturbing all the way up to the climax of the film where Mo’Nique treats us to one of the most heartbreaking and soul-wrenching monologues I’ve ever seen. Mo’Nique, who is a victim of childhood sexual abuse herself, had to dig so deep for that scene I have the feeling that it was purely cathartic, making the tears from the other actors painfully real. If Mo’Nique doesn’t win an Oscar for this performance there should be a public outcry over it. I think another Oscar might go to director Lee Daniels (Monster’s Ball). His approach to such a dark story is almost whimsical at times while keeping it gritty and painful. He does let you off the hook with some of the more disturbing scenes by cutting away just in time…thankfully. His directing choices remind me almost of Oliver Stone in the way he edits, zooms, goes to fantasy scenes and even uses colors. But all this said, the movie isn’t great. The performances are. The directing is. But not the movie. I’m trying to find meaning in the story. I get that it’s meant to be inspirational and that even when this girl was beaten down as far as she was, she still picked herself up to move forward. But does that work on me? It’s interesting that the theater was packed when I saw it and it was all by white people. African Americans are not flocking to see Precious. Instead, it’s being seen by the white, suburban, Art House crowd, like me, and it’s not filling me with inspiration. In fact, all it did was make me feel sorry for people like Precious, and I don’t think that’s the movie’s intention. I can gain some inspiration from the drive to keep moving forward no matter what; but it still comes from a place of pity because I can’t identify with any of her problems. Because of that, I think this is becoming a movie that everyone thinks they HAVE to like, while losing sight of the fact that some films can offer you great elements without a win overall.
Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire (Rated R)Gavin Grade: B+