Notes about the film, which has arrived on area screens, after the jump.
I had certain expectations about "Precious" before I saw it Thursday night. I expected it to be good, and I was right. I expected it to be graphic and painful to watch, and was only partly right.
Although there are a couple of graphically horrifying scenes in "Precious," its agony is not as visual as, say, Lori Petty's "The Poker House," which has some of the same issues and themes as "Precious." Instead, much of the pain in "Precious" is verbally generated, both from the words that people say to each other and from the struggles by characters, including Precious and her mother, to use language. (One of the nicer touches in the film is to show the credits as Precious might have written them at that point, words dropped, others barely spelled out.)
It is not only that we want to hear Precious talk about her agony (and her dreams), so that she can deal with them. We also want to hear her mother talk about the horrors she visited on Precious, both at her own hands and by her complicity in the abuse by Precious's father. Especially in the way "Precious" involves its title character's gaining the power to speak, the film recalls Laurie Halse Anderson's influential adolescent novel "Speak," where a girl's rape leads her into silence before she, like Precious, finds her voice again.
And the words probably burn more than a scene depicting the actions would have. They are searing, especially coming from Mo'Nique, marvelously playing Precious's mother, whether she is pouring venom on Precious or trying to rationalize what she has done. There has been Oscar talk about Mo'Nique, and it is deserved.
Still, working with Geoffrey Fletcher's script (from Sapphire's novel) and Lee Daniels's direction, there are other actors doing good work -- Mariah Carey is surprisingly effective in a supporting role, and Gabourey Sidibe as Precious delivers a touching, textured and uncompromising performance.
Precious makes great progress in the movie, but Sidibe keeps the transformation tightly reined; at the end, we can hope that Precious will be all right but -- as she walks, with two small children and an eighth-grade reading level -- we are forced to recognize that she is taking our hopes into a difficult, rawly real world. For that reason, I cannot call the movie optimistic. But for that same reason, I can call it smart but hopeful. I carried its torments with me long after the movie was over, but I also carried a belief that, with help (and Precious gets a great deal of it) and with determination (which Precious gains), people sometimes get through the worst that life throws at them.
Very good movie. Difficult parts. Worth seeing.
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