Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire


Here’s a film that’s been so universally lauded as brilliant, intense and powerful that I plan to use none of those adjectives in my review.

Precious is a film that handles its depressing subject matter with the utmost skill. For those who don’t know, Precious is a 16-year-old girl living in Harlem in the 1980s who is illiterate, sexually abused by both her parents and has already had one child by her father. You’d think that such a premise would mean that the film couldn’t possibly sink any lower into gloom… but you’d be wrong. I can assure you that her tale gets a lot worse.

But here’s where the masterful screenplay, performances and direction come in. Despite all the misery, Precious manages to be uplifting. Most of all, its inspiring to see someone who’s had to put up with so much heartache in her life rise above it all. Not that Precious becomes unrealistically triumphant – there are no easy exits here – but it does infuse its protagonist with a spirit that is inspirational. Unlike Samson and Delilah, which revelled in misery yet failed to provide its audience with any reason to sympathise with its characters (and I realise I’m swimming against the tide of public opinion here), Precious spends much of its time getting the balance right, constantly tipping the scales one way or the other.

That’s not to say that the film doesn’t occasionally veer into exploitation – more than once I found myself wondering what purpose a particular unfortunate downturn served other than to make the film grungier. There are a couple of moments that exist only to horrify us, which means the film stops short of perfect.

I haven’t read ‘Push’, the book on which Precious is based, but I imagine that the evolving voice of the narrator (reportedly part of the book’s charm) was an added bonus that fans will be disappointed to learn wasn’t somehow including in the film.

At the centre of the story is the performance by Gabourey Sidibe of course, who is perfect. In fact the performances are universally wonderful and the credibility is helped by the fact that most of the faces are unrecognisable (even Lenny Kravitz and Mariah Carey manage to grunge it up enough that their presence isn’t a distraction).

This is a film that challenges your understanding of the world and forces you to confront harsh realities that you yourself may never face. It’s eye-opening, horrid and joyful all at the same time.

Rating: 4.5 stars
Review by Stuart Wilson, 21st February 2010
Hoopla Factor: 4.0 stars

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