What do you know about this film? That Mariah Carey’s in it, looking less than her usual glamourous self?
That Mo’Nique delivers a powerful performance overshadowed only by a complete newcomer? Or maybe that Lenny Kravitz appears as a friendly hospital worker? Suffice to say that you know something of the hype that has built up around this excellent new drama.
The story revolves around a young, obese, black girl in a poor neighbourhood whose life has been far from perfect. Raped by her father since a very young age and, after he left, abused both mentally and physically by her emotionally stunted mother Precious has tolerated things that most of us can barely imagine. Add to that the more commonplace pain of schoolyard bullying for your appearance and it is a clear-cut recipe for depression. Somehow she keeps going, and one day is informed that she may be eligible to attend a special school, where classes are taught by the inspirational Ms. Rain. For a while it seems things may improve, but soon a series of horrific revelations send things from bad to worse.
It’s director, Lee Daniels, second feature in that role and his first (Shadowboxer) showed his talent for attracting big names to his productions, but also his shortcomings in creating a film that really sucks audiences in. Something has changed since then, and Precious has evolved beyond the casual name-dropping into a film of genuine power that at once conveys the magnitude of the situation faced by eponymous leading lady Precious, whilst at the same time emphasising a message of hope.
The trick seemed to be judging the characters perfectly for the cast, which is what makes the roles of Carey and Mo’Nique so compelling, and the story of unknown actress Gabourey Sidibe such a revelation. But more than what it does for reputation, buzz, or hype, this forethought gave Daniels screen presences that brought more than just a name to the film.
Mo’Nique isn’t just a box-office draw here, she is a snarling, disaffected she-demon whose vicious words and as hurtful as the variety of objects she hurls at her daughter. Carey is not a diva, but somehow transformed into this understanding, hard-working, yet somehow fragile social worker desperate to help Precious. The same applies to all the cast, well-known or otherwise, who adopt their characters so fully that you cannot help but be absorbed.
To further enhance character identification, particularly with the crucial character of Precious herself, Daniels offers us an insight into her inner world. While the vile realities that dog her unfortunate circumstances were portrayed with an ashamed candour, which at times had me cringing from the screen, we are also shown a glittering, bright and vibrant inner world which Precious retreats to; a first-hand, immediate insight into the strength and hope that lies at the centre of all the horrors around her. This element is absolutely vital to the success of the film, because without it all we would have is a painful series of events that do nothing but upset and depress audiences.
It’s a superb film from every point of view, and deserves praise and recognition well above that of the sum total of stars who grace the screen within it.
Precious opens in the U.K. today (Friday 29th January 2009).