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Review: Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire (2009)

Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire (2009)

Directed by: Lee Daniels

Premise: Set in the late 1980s, an illiterate and overweight African American girl (Gabourey Sidibe) who is pregnant with her second child enrolls in an alternative school and begins to put her life together.

What Works: Precious is a bold movie. This film violates a lot of conventional wisdom about mainstream American cinema. The lead character is not articulate and she does not conform to a Cosmopolitan magazine sense of beauty; the film takes place in a location that is as foreign to many American viewers as a third world country, and as a film about minority characters it does not allow itself to tell the kind of easy, inoffensive, feel-good entertainment that so often passes for an “issues” picture. Precious is in many ways an ugly and aggressive movie in its unsparing portrayal of the horror of this girl’s life and in the message it carries for both white and black audiences. There are several characters and images in this movie that recall racial stereotypes, such as when Precious steals a bucket of chicken and her mother’s abuse of the welfare system. But what the film is doing is intentionally adopting these images and making the viewers acknowledge something more complex about them; the film suggests that horror and hope can exist at the same time and that social programs can provide opportunities for both advancement and corruption. The film also takes some risks in its production as it transitions between realistic and formalistic styles and uses that to show how the media shapes Precious’ view of herself. This is important to the film, as it is told from her point of view and the audience is forced to see the world through her eyes. Allowing this person a voice, rather than having others speak for her, is a key feature that distinguishes Precious from other movies.

What Doesn’t: The middle of the film does replay scenarios of films like Freedom Writers or Dangerous Mindsand the film does not do quite enough to suggest the connection between writing and liberation. 

Bottom Line: Precious is an audacious film and it succeeds in shaking up the viewer by placing hot button issues in the audience’s face but doing so intelligently.

Episode: #272 (January 10, 2010)