No, Ma’am. I did not, nor would I ever, talk back to you.

Golden Mug

Supporting Actress (Mo’Nique)

Theatrical Release Date: 11/20/2009
Director: Lee Daniels
Cast: Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Sherri Shepherd, Lenny Kravitz

Generating more buzz than a swarm of angry bees, “Precious” won over a number of film festival crowds and has been delivering strong numbers at the box office. The question is, how much is deserved acclaim and how much is devotion to two of the film’s executive producers, Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry?

I can say happily that their involvement only served to bring attention to quite a good film but that you don’t want to see this if you’re not in the mood for a bit of a downer. Set in 1987 Harlem, the story centers on Claireece “Precious” Jones (Gabourey Sidibe), a 16-year-old illiterate girl who has just learned she’s pregnant with her second child via her father’s sexual abuse. Mom (Mo’Nique) isn’t much help, as her response is to physically and verbally abuse Precious at every opportunity. Light hearted stuff, right?

There are only two outlets for our protagonist, the fantasy world she’s created in her own head to escape the abuse and find a way to survive it all, and a teacher (Paula Patton) willing to believe and fight for her. The film goes back and forth between these disparate elements in her life as Precious instills the drive, determination and self-esteem to stand up for herself.

Make no mistake, there are numerous scenes of abuse in the film that are difficult to watch – not necessarily for their graphic nature but because of their sheer cruelty. Mo’Nique delivers one of the most powerful performances of the year and should be a shoe-in nominee for best supporting actress at awards shows in the next few months. Her character personifies evil and yet, Mo’Nique (thanks also to the screenplay) is able to make her three-dimensional and, in some strange way, sympathetic.

The film is about a cycle of abuse, of which I’m thankfully not knowledgeable of on a first-hand basis. I would imagine this could stir up some strong emotions with those who are but there also seems to be such a sincere and brutal honesty about the depiction on-screen that elevates the film above its grim nature. This is important because I’m not one to fully agree that Precious’ journey will leave anyone with a warm, fuzzy feeling by the end.

Oddly enough, one of the better elements of the film may also be one of the more contrived and therefore forgettable. The literacy/GED prep class that Precious undertakes includes a similarly disadvantaged set of teen girls. Their chemistry is superb and Paula Patton’s character creates an environment for them all that is full of love and respect. While this makes the scenes enjoyable and uplifting, it’s far too reminiscent of other films like “Dangerous Minds” or “Freedom Writers” and I understand the need for this element from a plot development perspective but at times it felt like exactly that – a plot device.

Director Lee Daniels did a remarkable job of capturing the harsh reality of abuse but his incorporation of Precious’ escapes to a fantasy world was hit and miss. While they often worked brilliantly and exemplified the schism necessary in her mind in order to endure all of the abuse, just as often they felt forced. It was as if someone reminded him that the film was a bit dark and the audience needed something to lighten the mood; so rather than provide that contrast of light and dark that only heightens both elements, often these scenes felt tacked on and ran a touch too long.

There’s also the involvement of Mariah Carey to be discussed. I will admit that she did nothing wrong and delivered a decent performance … but I always knew it was her and it was distracting. Had this been a more reputable actress or an unknown, I could have seen it as the character rather than the celebrity. At least with Lenny Kravitz’ involvement, his persona seemed to fit the character much, much better.

Still, don’t let any of those negative comments sway you. If you can handle the subject matter, “Precious” is an excellent film and well worth your time, receiving a 4 out of 5. The acting performances are solid all around and look to see some of them headed down the red carpet and anxiously awaiting the call of names from sealed envelopes.