PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL 'PUSH' BY SAPPHIRE features newcomer Gabourey Sidibe as sixteen year-old Claireece "Precious" Jones. Precious is obese, illiterate, and still in junior high school. The Harlem teen is also the single mother of a mongoloid daughter cared for by her grandmother and carrying another child. Both pregnancies are the result of being raped by her father.
As if those aren't enough hardships, Precious' welfare-scamming mother Mary (Mo'Nique) abuses her. Precious catches a break when her expulsion from the public school leads her to an alternative school, where she the teacher Ms. Rain (Paula Patton) takes an interest in her. Also concerned with Precious' toxic home life is a deglamorized Mariah Carey as social worker Mrs. Weiss.
Although PRECIOUS is not as mawkish or dreary as the plot description makes it sound, director Lee Daniels and screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher have a bad habit of smacking the protagonist and, by extension, the audience upside the head with more punishment than is necessary. The film is at odds to tell an inspiring story and confirm the hopelessness of the situation.
Precious' turbulent life presents ample problems for her to overcome, yet the film keeps finding new ways to extract pain from her circumstances. PRECIOUS isn't poverty tourism, but in the effort to evoke gritty realism, the filmmakers overdo it.
PRECIOUS also suffers from the shifts between the main character's internal monologue and the film's desire to initiate a larger conversation about girls like her and the portrayed community. This inconsistent character study succeeds when conveying Precious' self-image, how she views her dire conditions, and what she dreams of. Sidibe's naturalistic performance and the intermittent fantasy sequences reveal the humanity in the sort of character and person who is usually overlooked, if not purposefully ignored, but attempts to extrapolate this individual experience to a general group lack support.
Daniels employs a throw everything at the wall to see what sticks directorial style that makes PRECIOUS compelling viewing, but predictably, his shotgun approach lacks focus. Most critically, PRECIOUS veers off track at the end when Mo'Nique gets a showcase scene with Precious and the social worker. The scene is emotionally loaded, but upon inspection it makes no dramatic sense and doesn't end with the sort of uplift it pretends to have.
PRECIOUS can be funny and deeply felt. Unfortunately, like those people surrounding the character, it loses sight of the character.