Precious – a powerful if flawed Harlem drama

PRECIOUS (15) ***

Starring: Gabourey “Gabbie” Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Paula Patton, Lennie Kravitz
Directed by Lee Daniels
Running Time: 1 hour 49 minutes

Precious Jones (Gabbie Sidibe) is 16. She lives in Harlem where she has been raped by her father and abused by her mother (Mo’Nique) and now she is pregnant. Can a new school make things better? It can’t get any worse.

They say:

“The film is never shy of pressing the viewer’s buttons, but it’s put across with heartfelt power.” Guardian

“Compelling performances and an intriguing story undermined by poor direction and editing, and it’s a shame, too.”

“Second-time director Lee Daniels creates a must-see portrait of life’s underprivileged which is utterly compelling.” Screen International

Wolfie says:

We should get this straight right from the beginning. Gabbie Sidibe as Precious and Mo’Nique as her mother are fantastic in their respective roles. There are times when you forget that they are acting at all so much so that their drama becomes our drama.

Gabbie Sidibe even when she is just slumping in a chair like some great and tragic mountain of misery, conveys the hidden power underneath her unhappiness and when she is delivering a punch or a scream of outrage, she is very formidable indeed. We feel her pain, as they say, but also delight in her joy. This is a truly memorable cinema performance.

Mo’Nique too as the abusive mother from Hell is terrific. Her monstrous behaviour is never allowed to obscure the fact that here too is a passionate, desperately unhappy and damaged woman. There are two monologues in particular where she gives a virtuoso display of raw emotionally honest acting.

This is a film that belongs to its actors – its two leads in particular.

Unfortunately Lee Daniels directs with a less than sure hand never quite deciding on a principal style. He is most successful when we forget about him all together and just get carried away by his two leading ladies. Otherwise we have a mix of rather averagely shot docu-drama and too many different styles of “artiness” not always edited together with the finesse needed to bring them off. Maybe Mr Daniels needs to try less and trust in his performers more.

The film occupies an edgy Harlem world where Precious is the unfortunate recipient of every possible misfortune going if you happen to be black, female, obese and poor. To some tastes it is just a bit too rich for its own polemic. OK, children do get raped by their fathers and abused by their mothers, they do suffer from social deprivation and if they are not conventionally good-looking they also have to endure bullying and mockery too. It is just that in this film, the poor girl gets the whole lot – enough in fact for us to wonder whether there is some ghetto stereotyping going on here.

All the characters in Precious’ neighbourhood are “problems” with no one there just getting on with stuff, doing their bit and, let’s say it, just having fun. It is as if the only way out of the Hell that is the hood, is to become a teacher, a nurse or a social worker. Education, Education, Education, as our former Prime Minister once said. Of course this is the key to many of the social ills documented in this movie but sadly, the “inspirational teacher” genre movie smacks just a bit too much of goody-two-shoes. Paula Patton is lovely and highly sympathetic as the teacher-who- can-make-a-difference but she stands out as the slim, beautiful, nice, intelligent ideal where maybe we could have done with someone a bit rougher and tougher.

A firmer hand on the tiller would have sorted the film’s short-comings but let’s not be too harsh this is a powerful and moving drama bringing some light to many too easily forgotten women like Precious and her difficult to love mother and of course it reminds us that life on the wrong side of any desperately poor neighbourhood is tough and not always much fun.

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