Last week, the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) provided me the opportunity to see a screening of the movie Precious, directed by Lee Daniels (of Monster’s Ball, The Woodsman, Shadowboxer fame). While this movie isn’t out and showing in theatres across the continent yet, no doubt many of you have heard something about this film. There is a lot of buzz out there surrounding Precious, not only because it’s one of Lee Daniel’s films that is being heavily promoted by Oprah’s Harpo Productions, or that Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz have supporting roles, but because this movie is so gut-wrenchingly brilliant, hands down. I wouldn’t be surprised if this movie gets numerous Oscar nominations.
The screenplay Precious is based on the novel Push by Sapphire. The storyline follows Clareece “Precious” Jones as she navigates her way through adolescence. It’s a story about growing up, love, courage, and taking responsibility for one’s life. However, Precious is no ordinary teenager. We meet in her native Harlem during her sixteenth year as she is pregnant with her second child. Both times she was impregnated by her father, who still remains her mother’s boyfriend. Precious is obese, illiterate, and living in an abusive household. She yearns for a better life, but sees little hope.
First off, the acting in this movie is second to none. My hat goes off to Mo’Nique who plays the role of Precious’ mother in the film. She delivers an absolutely outstanding performance that, and I have no problems saying this, should guarantee her the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Another great performance was put in by Gabourey Sidibe who plays the role of Precious. In the Q&A following the film, Lee Daniels explained that it was very tough to find Sidibe as they had to have open casting calls across the country for a 400 lb teenage African American woman. As you could imagine, they are few and far between on casting agent’s lists. Unbelievably, this is Sidibe’s first film.
Another actress new to the silver screen that blew me out of the water was… wait for it… yes, Mariah Carey. After Glitter I think the whole world wrote her off, but she hit hard in her role of welfare agent Mrs. Weiss. The woman is not wearing a stitch of make-up, her hair is a mess and she’s wearing dumpy sweaters, and boy can she act. I haven’t always been the biggest Mariah Carey fan and dismissed her as an aloof, overrated diva, but her role garnered a lot of respect from me as well as many members of the audience who were also shocked at her acting ability that seemingly came out of nowhere.
The other aspect of this film that the director did an amazing job with was how he wove social commentary into the film. Watching this film, you get a sense of the helplessness and despair that people on the lowest rung of the social ladder experience, and how much strength and tenacity it takes to face it. The systems that are in place to assist people in overcoming their adversities and giving them a hand up in order to better their own situation are so flawed and have more cracks to fall through than a Montreal causeway.
I could write endlessly about this film, and there’s so much more I want to talk about. However, I can’t let you know much more about the story because I don’t want to give too much away, but I strongly urge everyone to see this film. Make no mistake about it, this film hits hard and is extremely disturbing at some points. You will laugh, you will cry as you fall in love with this young woman’s spirit and courage. This will end up being one of those must-see movies that will be talked about for years to come, and I hope has the ability to perhaps urge policy makers and voters to look at the education and social support systems they have created that ultimately fail the thousands of children and adolescents out there just like Precious.
As a final note, I’d like to point out that this movie is not all doom and gloom. I’ve painted a pretty bleak picture here, but rest assured that the director cleverly (and thankfully) inserted a lot of humor within this film. Before the screening, Lee Daniels introduced the film and encouraged us to laugh. He explained in his experience on set that, (not verbatim) “We had to laugh our way through this movie, the cast and crew. Because as soon as you start to stop and actually think about these issues seriously, and the fact that this is based on someone’s life, you get taken to this incredibly dark place that is difficult to escape.”