'Precious' Will Leave Lasting Mark

Precious Will Leave Lasting MarkCourtesy Lionsgate
Precious (Gabourey Sidibe, left) and Mary (Mo'Nique, right) in Precious, a novel by Sapphire.

"Everybody's good at something," Ms. Rain tells her student, Claireece "Precious" Jones.

And Precious is especially good at transforming dark to light, hate to love and the relentlessly callous landscape of her environment into something bearable.

There is no airbrushing or sugarcoating in Lee Daniels' second film, "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire." Grit, fried food and palpable street shots of Harlem during the 1980s pervade the screen. "Precious" is a heavy film, filled with glints of light.

Adapted from Sapphire's 1996 novel "Push," the film centers on a morbidly obese 16-year-old teenager named Precious (Gabourey Sidibe), who struggles to overcome domestic abuse and illiteracy.

Precious survives her harsh lot by using her imagination to escape to a kinder, more accepting place that includes the light-skinned boyfriend she has always wanted. Once she is snatched back to her reality, however, the themes of sexual abuse, illiteracy and teenage pregnancy continue to reign supreme.

Sidibe's portrayal of Precious is an undeniable triumph. The complexity of her character is one that the 24-year-old Sidibe handles seamlessly, and it is hard to believe this is her first acting part.

Precious' role is that of victim: a victim of the images she aspires to become, including a blond-haired white woman she sees reflected in the mirror as she gets dressed; a victim of the father who has twice impregnated her and sexually abused her since she was 3; a victim of the mother who demands, among other things, that Precious have dinner ready every night; and a victim of the outside world that tells her she has no other choice than to become a home attendant or welfare recipient.

But Precious knows better, and does better than most people would ever do in such circumstances. By escaping to an alternative school and giving birth to a second child by her father, Precious gains a sense of resiliency that is impenetrable and steadfast. Nothing that life throws at her will bring her to her knees.

'Precious' Full of Sorrow, Bittersweet Joy

Comedian Mo'Nique's Oscar-worthy performance as Precious' mother, Mary, is an electrifying standout in the film. As a chain-smoking, welfare- and television-dependent mother, Mary is cruel and abusive toward Precious, unleashing some of the most horrendous acts that a mother could commit.

That the audience may come to accept this monster of a character is empathy in its deepest form. Yet Mo'Nique somehow manages to make the audience consider for a moment her side of the story -- a story that is not as uncommon as America would like to believe and that this film executes flawlessly.

Part of the magic of this film is its simplicity in exposing the rawness of living in poverty, through shots of fried food that plagues many lower-income communities, trips to the welfare office and the reality of underfunded schools.

With Lee's decision to keep the actors in minimal makeup and close-up camera shots, the audience can see life as it really is, one unapologetic test after another. With these tests comes Precious' triumph: She is able, through a series of unimaginable life setbacks, to emerge as not only a victor but as testimony to the old adage that "it takes a village to raise a child."

Ms. Blu Rain, played by Paula Patton, is one of those characters who helps Precious realize her worth. In her classroom at the alternative school, Ms. Rain challenges young girls to write in a journal, to document their lives and think beyond how their surroundings have categorized them. Mariah Carey has received buzz for her role as the social worker Ms. Weiss, who, although sympathizing with Precious, cannot quite handle a case like Precious' either. Lenny Kravitz plays a brief yet touching role as John, Precious' nurse.

Co-produced by talk-show host Oprah Winfrey and filmmaker-actor Tyler Perry, "Precious" has already won three major awards at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, top prize at the Toronto Film Festival and is sure to be an Oscar contender.

It is not often that a film, which opened Nov. 6, is able to portray an overwhelming sense of sorrow and bittersweet joy all at once. The emotional heaviness of the film radiates from the screen to the audience; leaving all with the feeling that life is, indeed, precious.