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Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire (Lee Daniels, 2009) April 22, 2010

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Hollywood.
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Directed by Lee Daniels
Written by Geoffrey Fletcher
Cast: Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz

It’s easy to get carried away and call Precious a great film on account of its actors. Every awards season, one or two films make a grand entrance—John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt in 2008 (Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffmann, Amy Adams, Viola Davis) or Stephen Daldry’s The Hours in 2002 (Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Ed Harris)—carrying an ensemble of actors whose performances are so massive, their portrayals are better remembered than the film they are in. This past year turned its light on to Lee Daniels’ Precious, an adaptation of Sapphire’s novel called Push.

The roads of star system are not paved overnight. If one imagines Mo’Nique and Gabourey Sidibe giving life to their mother and daughter roles in the 40’s (years after Hattie McDaniel received her Oscar for Gone With the Wind) . . . well, honestly, there’s simply no way to imagine it. It’s completely inconceivable. These roles make terms with the times, inasmuch as these films are products of political conditions, particularly of the society’s measure of tolerance. They just can’t be conceived on a whim, inasmuch as history is not made on a whim. The characters in Precious are only written now because they mainly exist now, and they speak, they act, they complain, and they fight as a result of such longterm struggle of keeping mum. Being a product of a strong and significant facet of predominance—to wit, the (a)moral damages of institutional racism and the (a)political debasement brought by ethnic discrimination—makes Precious deeply relevant.

But the film walks this bridge that connects the common and the exploited. There is nothing here that the viewer who watches TV and reads the dailies doesn’t know. Abuse is too strong a presence that it becomes normal; or if not normal, ordinary—as ordinary as street children who knock on the window of one’s car. Which is bad and which is terrible, even with that little hope provided by the film at the end. And which also means that one cannot escape such fate if one is borne black, poor, or handicapped, because unfavorable circumstances only become more unfavorable as time goes by, unless when it comes to people who are lucky, strong, and rich (which, on second thought, are qualities that null their being “marginalized”), people whom the media always hype to the extreme, to give hope to the less fortunate, as they say.

Mo’Nique and Sidibe’s performances—of a mother and a daughter surrounded by the worst physical and emotional abuse—are the honeycomb of the press, and deservingly so. Their characters are written to be electrifying, and so they did electrifying. Titanic is how the exposition in the end is delivered, how the sympathy moves from one to another, how there seems to be no conclusion to ever reach for. The film achieves the monstrous and the filthy, only it gets there a little too messy, if not a little too sloppy.

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