In “Precious,” director Lee Daniels brings to life Clarice “Precious” Jones, an obese, illiterate, black teenager who lives a horrific life grounded in a shameful truth. It’s a truth known to exist but rarely exposed in such a vivid portrayal, the issue of incestuous rape and its consequences.
Precious lives in a hell, where a cruel, selfish mother belittles her at every instant, and she is taunted by the kids at her school and on the streets.
She hides inside her obese body, escaping by fantasizing of being a movie star —beautiful, sexy and adored by handsome men. She even dreams of being white and blond. These fantasies give the audience a reprieve from her desolate life — the ugliness, poverty and hopelessness.
Yet Precious finds hope and love through the much-maligned institutions of public schools, social work and government remedial programs.
She finds herself surrounded by women who care, even though doing so is their job. Still, it is Precious alone who lifts herself out of desolation with small steps. In the film, she repeats a quote from her teacher, “The longest journey starts with one step,” then adding, “Whatever that means.” She takes these steps little by little, shedding the crushing weight of insecurities pounded on her by her looks, her mother and her illiteracy. She finds strength and bravery one would not imagine her capable of.
“Precious” gives us two of the best performances of 2009. Newcomer Gabourey Sidibe is remarkable as Precious; she allows us to feel her pain, her defenses, as well as her hope. We feel pride and empathy for a character so different from most of us.
Comedian Mo’Nique is a revelation as Precious’ mother, Mary. Her performance is extraordinary; she does what seems impossible, making this abusive, selfish mother multi-dimensional, vulnerable and exposed.
The chemistry between Mo’Nique and Sibide is electrifying, a love-hate relationship of almost operatic dimensions. Oscar will come a courting to these two amazing actresses.