Newcomer, comedian flawless in ‘Precious’

By Susan W. Woods


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

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.

4 - out of 5

‘Precious: Based on the novel “Push” by Sapphire’

Directed by Lee Daniels

110 minutes. Rated R