Film Review – Precious

Okay…so by now, you must be tired of hearing me complain about how we don’t seem to qualify for decent movies in Northwest Arkansas. We have to wait, wait, and then wait some more for some of the “Oscar” fair that the rest of the country gets to enjoy early.

This past weekend, while home for Thanksgiving, Daniel and I finally said “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH” and we decided to throw some of our money at the fantastic Rave Motion Pictures in Little Rock. Before I go any further, what would it take to get a Rave in Northwest Arkansas? I could see it in Springdale or Lowell…perhaps out by Arvest Ballpark. That way the theatre would be centrally located and easily accessible for everyone. Perhaps the Springdale Chamber can look into that, if they can take a break from all that travel and spending:).

Our choice of movie was pretty obvious. I have been dying to see Lee Daniels’ “Precious: Based on the novel Push by Sapphire” for months. Let me go on record and say that everything you have heard about the movie is true. The acting is sensational, the story is touching, the movie is terribly difficult to watch at times, and above all…it is brilliant! I’ll save you the suspense now and tell you that this movie gets a resounding “A.”

“Precious” tells the story of the namesake character played in her debut by Gaborey Sidibe. Precious is morbidly obese, illiterate, and pregnant with her second child at age fifteen. Both children are fathered by Precious’ own father. The oldest has Down Syndrome and therefore, requires special attention not provided within Precious’ home. The story is fairly simple…the plot solely revolves around the title character and her constant struggles within her own life. Precious has trouble with literacy, authority, and control.

Suspended from her school at the beginning of the movie, the bulk of the remainder deals with Precious’ entry and performance within an alternative education school which provides young women with chances to obtain their GED or Pre-GED.

The film cuts in scenes between Precious and her teacher, Precious and her social worker, and Precious and her trips to the hospital for the birth of her second child. Important work is done with careful consideration by supporting cast including Sherry Sheppard, Lenny Kravitz, and YES…Mariah Carey. Carey has received a lot of press for her relatively small role as the social worker trying to dive into Precious’ past. She manages to not only handle the small role, but actually develop it into something greater than what must have been on the page. She does a lovely job that forces us to try to forget “Glitter.”

Sidibe is superb in the title role. She handles it with grace and confidence and truly breaks your heart without even trying too. Perhaps that’s Precious’ greatest gift. It (the film) never relays on heavy sentimentality or forced emotion. The story is simple, heart-felt, and scary…because you truly realize how many people are living in Precious’ world.

Of course, no mention of Precious’ world would be complete without mentioning her mother, Mary. Mary is the embodiment of relatable terror. I was reminded while watching her of Anton Sugar in “No Country for Old Men” as they are both horrific cinema characters. The major difference is that you could see Sugar is a character…someone meant to move the story along…almost the personification of evil. Mary simply is EVIL. There’s no way around the fact that there are many, many Marys in the world. That brings up the actress who portrays the villain, Monique. Mostly known as a comedian and talk show host, Monique is the purest form of evil that I can remember on screen. When we first meet Mary, we begin to wonder what is so bad about her? If you believe any of the hype, you would think that she is obviously horrible. However, many in the audience were laughing at some of her first scenes. That quickly changed. And in a way more dramatic than anything I have seen in a theatre.

There are two sections of her portrayal that will send shivers down your spine. The first is a scene which is perfectly executed involving Mary trying to remain eligible for welfare. She bounces between fake happiness and reality with a shocking ease. The second scene is one that I cannot even describe and do justice. It involves Sidibe and will be hard for anyone to ever forget. It starts out rather simply and almost sweetly, but the entire audience knows that it is simply “too good to be true” and the subsequent action is so horrible that people were gasping in the audience.

That scene sets up the last portion of the movie, which involves what it finally takes for Precious to try to break free from her surroundings. The final confrontation between Monique, Precious, and Mariah Carey is brilliant. When Mariah puts her hands up as a stand-off-ish surrender, you truly understand why.

Daniel and I both left the theatre while tearing up. It’s not because the ending was overly emotional. It is simply that you, as an audience member, are truly transported within this film. Lee Daniels does a fantastic job of balancing the hard with the soft in the material. When he cuts in and out of Precious’ world with dream sequences, you truly appreciate the relief. But then…Monique comes back. It is as if the character and the audience cannot seem to get a break from her.

If voters go on performance alone, it will be incredibly hard to beat both Sidibe and Monique at the Oscars. Sidibe’s closest competition will probably come from Carey Mulligan (“An Education“) or Meryl Streep (“Julie and Julia“). However, much like Hilary Swank in “Boys Don’t Cry,” Sidibe’s debut is simply too good to ignore. Oscar voters don’t always like to honor first-timers but we can only hope that they give this talented youngster her due.

That brings up Monique. The statue is hers for the taking. No character will even come close to touching her this year…and I haven’t seen many of the possible nominees including both actresses from “Up in the Air” and Julianne Moore from “A Single Man.” Monique is simply too damn good to be denied. She reminds me of the experience of watching Jennifer Hudson perform her showstopper in “Dreamgirls.” Anybody who saw that movie in the theatres (even if you hated it) knew that statue was going to Hudson. That’s how you feel about Monique. However, she can be a bit prickly and her character is completely unlikable. If any of her public comments about awards hurt her chances, which will truly be a shame. I also expect the film to compete.

I don’t know when Northwest Arkansas will get “Precious.” However, I would tell anyone who has feet to jump at the opportunity to see it when you get the chance. It’s more than a story of a girl trying to read and write. It will haunt you and make you think for days after your viewing…it’s THAT GOOD.


Precious (2009)

Rating: R
Release Date: Nov. 6, 2009
Running Time: 109 mins.
Country Of Origin: United States
Starring: Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Sherri Shepherd, Lenny Kravitz, Stephanie Lee Andujar, Chyna Layne, Amina Robinson, Xosha Roquemore
Director: Lee Daniels
Synopsis: Set in Harlem in 1987, it is the story of Claireece “Precious” Jones, a sixteen-year-old African-American girl born into a life no one would want. She’s pregnant for the second time by her absent father; at home, she must wait hand and foot on her mother, a poisonously angry woman who abuses her emotionally and physically. School is a place of chaos, and Precious has reached the ninth grade with good marks and an awful secret: she can neither read nor write. Precious may sometimes be down, but she is never out. Beneath her impassive expression is a watchful, curious young woman with an inchoate but unshakeable sense that other possibilities exist for her. Threatened with expulsion, Precious is offered the chance to transfer to an alternative school, Each One/Teach One. Precious doesn’t know the meaning of “alternative,” but her instincts tell her this is the chance she has been waiting for. In the literacy workshop taught by the patient yet firm Ms. Rain, Precious begins a journey that will lead her from darkness, pain and powerlessness to light, love and self-determination. (From

Wayne Bell is a guest contributor for the Fayetteville Flyer. He moved to Fayetteville in 2003 for his Masters Degree and you can almost always catch him at Little Bread Co. or Hammontree’s. For more of Wayne’s contributions, visit his author page.