This Week at the Movies: Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire



Although it made its theatrical debut at the Sundance Film Festival over a year ago, Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire is still fresh in the minds of audiences and critics alike. In fact, the film has just been nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture of the Year, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress.

To be sure, these honors are all well-deserved. Precious may seem to be just another bleak depiction of life on the streets of New York, but the movie is far more than just that. In the end, it is memorable for its exceptional performances by Mo’Nique and newcomer Gabourey Sidibe, unique direction by Lee Daniels and powerful (albeit brutal) story.

Precious follows Clarice “Precious” Jones (as played by Sidibe), a sixteen-year-old African-American girl living with her mother Mary (as played by Mo’Nique) in a small apartment in Harlem in 1987. Although Precious has everything going against her in life – she’s poor, illiterate, obese, still in junior high school and even pregnant with her father’s second child – some shred of hope remains. Precious transfers to an alternative school called “Each One, Teach One,” where she learns not only how to read and write, but also how to better communicate her issues with other people.

While Precious probably won’t win Best Picture of the Year (thanks to bigger box office juggernauts like Avatar), Sidibe’s and Mo’Nique’s performances are so heart-wrenching that I’d consider both to be frontrunners for their respective award categories. Mo’Nique’s terrifying portrayal of Precious’s abusive mother is particularly affecting and eerily authentic. Though her screen time throughout the film isn’t all that long, she absolutely steals the scene whenever involved. Who would’ve thought it – Mo’Nique? Of all people?

The same can be said for director Lee Daniels. How did he, of all people, manage to score a Best Director nomination after only his second (directorial) effort? The answer lies in Daniels’s unconventional, yet effective shot techniques. Many scenes, for instance, are shot through a constantly-moving camera, which adds a sense of pressure to the drama. Likewise, jump cuts – where two sequential shots of the same thing are shown from very slightly different angles – are pretty frequent throughout the movie.

The editing, likewise, is refreshingly unconventional. Scenes in Precious constantly jump between reality and fantasy, as Precious often daydreams of a better life outside of Harlem. I found myself better able to understand Precious’s struggle once I was able to get inside her head.

So there you have it. Precious might be an extremely grim movie, but I’d still recommend it to anyone intrigued to see some up-and-coming talent at work. This deeply-affecting film is a trip worth taking. Highly recommended.

Precious is playing at the Hamilton Movie Theater now.