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Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

LEE Daniels’ hard-hitting yet inspirational Precious is a remarkable piece of work by any standards.

Based on the award- winning novel Push by author and performance poet Sapphire, it’s tells the provocative tale of 16-year-old Precious (played by Gabourey Sidibe), an illiterate, obese, physically and mentally abused girl who is also pregnant for the second time by her father.

When she’s thrown out of school and offered a last chance as part of an inner city teaching programme for problem girls, Precious grabs the opportunity but remains constantly at odds with her abusive mother and inability to fit in.

Contrary to some of the “feel-good” quotes that have emerged on the film’s poster campaign, Precious is a hard watch at times that’s foul mouthed, dark and consistently shocking.

Daniels doesn’t refrain from showing the harsher realities of Precious’ life, whether taking physical or verbal abuse from her mother (played by Mo’Nique) or being treated with contempt by many judgmental onlookers.

And yet he offsets these via the handful of people that bring hope to Precious’ life, whether through Paula Patton’s sympathetic and inspirational teacher, Mariah Carey’s honest, probing counsellor or Lenny Kravitz’s male nurse.

Precious herself, as played by the brilliant Gabourey Sidibe, is also one of life’s endurers – a figure who is inspirational by virtue of her steadfast refusal to curl up and die.

Rather, having been offered the opportunity to better herself, Precious resolves to do everything she can – eventually drawing the courage to pull away from her predicament and care for her two children.

Sidibe’s performance is so raw and natural that we never once question her credentials as a first-time actress – she lives and breathes the part, through the heartache and pain, as well as the joys and triumphs that eventually come her way.

Mo’Nique, too, is amazing in her own vile way… presenting one of the most abhorrent movie characters for some time, yet somehow avoiding the temptation to make her appear one dimensional.

In one telling breakdown scene, she hints at a heart and soul behind the monster she has become – though, crucially, we’re never asked to sympathise with her… not even for a second.

But Precious is remarkable for the overall quality of its performances as nobody – not ever musicians Carey and Kravitz – misses a beat.

It’s clear this is a labour of love project for all concerned that’s directed by Daniels with as much raw edginess as he can muster. It may be rough around the edges, but the film feels all the more authentic for it.

There are minor niggles, of course. Some of the flights of fantasy that Precious takes are distracting and feel gimmicky, while some of the humour feels awkward – it may take some time before you properly feel comfortable with the movie’s tone.

But given its power to bring tears to the eyes and to demonstrate the power of the individual to rise above the most depressing of circumstances, Precious is a film that demands to be seen by just about everyone.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 110mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: May 24, 2010