(out of 5)
Life is a relentless war zone for Claireece “Precious” Jones (Gabourey Sidibe), a teenaged girl in 1987 Harlem who is pregnant for the second time with her father’s child. She likes school but is too introverted to contribute, while at home her criminally abusive mother (Mo’Nique) hurls insults at her in between bouts of physical violence that this young woman is powerless to prevent. Opportunity falls into her lap when she is offered the choice of going to an alternative school, one that will help get her reading and writing skills on par with her apparently impressive mathematics skills, and she takes the chance despite the fact that it only makes her mother more aggressive. While there, Precious inspires the affection of her teacher (Paula Patton), who steps in to help this magnificently beaten-down girl realize her potential. Bleak, powerful and sometimes very moving, this drama would be so much better if it didn’t have such a manipulative director at its helm; it’s a brilliant film hiding behind a cheesy one, full of emotional signposts that are completely unnecessary. Showing Precious’ fantasies of being a BET superstar complete with light-skinned boyfriend and glamorous clothing is a classic example of overkill in the story of a girl who is being sexually abused by her parents and having crockery whipped at her head on a regular basis; it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that she wishes she was somewhere else most of the time. When director Lee Daniels isn’t getting in the way of the experience, the few times this happens, magical things occur, and they usually involve Mo’Nique. Her closing scene, where she delivers a heartfelt monologue in which her selfishness erupts in a monstrous yet strangely human manner, is enough to justify sitting through the awkward montage sequences and poor soundtrack choices. Shockingly enough, Mariah Carey is riveting in her two scenes as Precious’ social worker, and her reactions to Mo’nique at the film’s close are powerful in themselves.
Directed by Lee Daniels
Cinematography by Andrew Dunn
Music by Mario Grigorov
Production Design by Roshelle Berliner
Costume Design by Marina Draghici
Film Editing by Joe Klotz