“Precious” is an unrelenting movie. Striking at the heart of any compassionate person, it brings the viewer into a world that is not too far from any door in America. And it calls to us to see the life of one we would easily pass over and not give a moment’s thought.
Clarissa Precious Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) is 16 and pregnant with her second child. Both of them were fathered by Precious’ father. Precious’ mother (Mo’Nique) is a villain of a woman who makes Precious’ life a living hell. And to say a living hell is too bland of a description. Her mother is verbally, physically and psychologically abusive.
Precious is large and overweight. Self-described as nothing more than a “glob of grease,” she lives in a world of pain and only escapes in her dreams. The dreams she holds are of being famous, being loved and adored and being more than just another person who fills out the landscape of urban life.
Because she is pregnant again, her principal comes to tell her mother that Precious is not going to be allowed back to school – and this is done through the housing project intercom in Harlem. Mother is not upset about the dismissal. She assaults Precious for not going to the welfare office to get more money for the coming of the new baby. She makes it clear that Precious is nothing more than dumb and stupid.
Precious’ world is one of secrets. She does not tell anyone what has brought her to this state of living. Telling the secret would only increase the abuse. Precious walks through the world with no hope, being nothing more than a slave to an abuser who gave birth to her. Human life, in her world, is not worth anything. Failure to buy the daily lottery ticket is grounds for violence.
When Precious gets released from school, she is given an opportunity to attend an alternative school. There she meets Ms. Rain (Paula Patton), who begins to shine the light of hope into the darkness of Precious’ life. Ms. Rain learns that Precious is illiterate and starts teaching her how to read and write.
But it’s the social worker (Mariah Carey) who discovers the secrets. She learns of the abuse that Precious lives in daily. It is her intervention that allows Precious to unburden herself and move forward in life.
“Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire” is a modern retelling of Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple.” When Steven Spielberg adapted it into a movie, it produced many of today’s stars. Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey came out of that film.
This movie is bringing two wonderful performers to the attention of the movie-going public. Gabourey Sidibe plays Precious with all the pain that was required for this demanding role, yet with pathos that grabs the audience. Surely she will be nominated for best actress come Oscar time.
And Mo’Nique will be nominated for best supporting actress. There is no greater villain in film than her portrayal of the damaged, but so evil, mother to Precious.
A final word is in order. This movie contains a scene of incest and rape. It has extremely graphic language and violence. Many of us would be repelled by what it reveals.
But truth is a double-edged sword. It cuts the way of righteousness, justice and hope. And truth cuts also in the direction of pain and sorrow. Both of these cuts are made here. The truth is told, and we need to see it if we have the will to witness it.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA Rating: R for child abuse including sexual assault, and pervasive language.
Director: Daniel Lee
Writer: Geoffrey Fletcher, based on the novel by Sapphire
Cast: Gabourey Sidibe: Precious; Mo’Nique: Mary; Paula Patton: Ms. Rain; Mariah Carey: Mrs. Weiss; Lenny Kravitz: Nurse John.
The movie’s Web site is here.
Michael Parnell is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is married and has two boys. His love is for movies, and he can be found in a theater most Fridays.