PRECIOUS (Lee Daniels, 2009)

To prevent its being confused with another 2009 Push, Lee Daniels’s film is being called Precious: Based on the [1996] Novel Push by Sapphire. Mindful of Ralph Ellison’s 1952 novel Invisible Man, one might instead call the film Invisible Girl. Sixteen-year-old Claireece Precious Jones is an illiterate, overweight junior high school girl in 1987 Harlem. Those who notice her do not see her but, rather, another opportunity to be cruel at her expense—as though life isn’t hard enough already on Precious. Her first child was the outcome of rape by her father, who has made her pregnant again, drawing her unmarried mother’s wrath against her; welfare cheat Mary feels that Precious, whom she savages repeatedly both verbally and physically, stole her boyfriend away from her. Once her new pregnancy is discovered, Precious is kicked out of school; a literacy education program takes up the slack. Her social worker and her teacher each intend for Precious to have a future. They break through the sullen armor that has built up around her by degrees, making possible her dream (which we hear as voiceover) that Precious will get through to somebody or somebody will get through to her. Throughout, Daniels generously applies closeups so that Precious won’t remain “invisible” to us.
     The film is alternately brilliantly taut and amiably roomy, with riffs of fantasy, marshaling expressionistic and avant-garde techniques, correlative to Precious’s interiority; when her raging mother flings an object at the back of her head, on the kitchen floor Precious flashes back to her father raping her while insisting he loves her—memories that segue into her escape from reality: dreams of her being a celebrity with attentive, adoring fans. Her clothes, hair, make-up are all suddenly gorgeous.
     As Precious, first-timer Gabourey Sidibe is tremendously moving.


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