Precious: Based On the Novel ‘Push’ By Sapphire
Directed by: Lee Daniels
Written by: Geoffrey Fletcher (screenplay), Sapphire (book)
Starring: Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Mariah Carrey, and Paula Patton
Who wants to watch a movie about an illiterate fat girl from Harlem? After seeing director Lee Daniels’ fiercely, unapologetically honest Precious, you will add yourself to that list.
This movie had a lot to prove. With a cast of either unknown, inexperienced, or ill-reputed fame, it proved to have one of the best ensembles of 2009. With almost no budget, no hype, and no help but what was on the screen, it won over crowds at the Sundance Film Festival and got Oprah to endorse it. In a way, this movie struggled much like its protagonist.
On the surface, this film seems conventional. At a glance, it appears to be yet another urban tale about a poverty stricken youth escaping the clutches of the ghetto. Then again, if this film teaches you anything, it’s to never take anything at a glance again. Daniels makes sure you look straight on into the eyes and life of a person that you would typically pass on the street and write off as stupid and fat.
In a way, the life of Clareece ‘Precious’ Jones plays out like that of a horror movie (Frankenstein, not Friday the 13th). She doesn’t know who she is or what she is capable of, all thanks to the lack of love present in her creators. Where many see home as a place of haven to escape the world, Precious sees it as the strongest part of the storm. Abused by her mother and raped by her father, Precious would interpret the phrase “There’s no place like home, “ much differently than most.
Newcomer Gabourey Sidibe is a great find. In an age where Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift are given film roles, Sidibe brings true talent, grit and grace to the role of Precious. It’s astounding that this is the first time she’s ever acted on screen.
If you’re looking for true brilliance on the acting front, however, I won’t be the first to tell you that Mo’Nique is the place to look. As Mary Jones, the mother from hell, she scores a knockout performance that will be talked about for years. Any actor could play an ice-cold villain, but Mo’Nique manages to make us understand the motive behind this monster. If there’s one guarantee on Oscar night, it’s her Best Supporting Actress win. In the hands of someone less skilled, the role would’ve fallen from grotesquely human to something less, which would’ve ruined it.
In fact, anything less than a human approach would’ve made this story fail miserably. Lee Daniels directs the film style, substance, and unflinching honesty, not fearing the zoom in when most directors would move on.
Adapted from the novel Push by the author and poet Sapphire, this movie moves in the same poetic way. Excerpts from the novel were read this past Tuesday, when Sapphire took the stage at CMU’s Plachta auditorium to give a presentation entitled “When Push Comes to Precious.”
The New York City native was this year’s keynote speaker for Black History Month. Along with reading three passages from her novel, she also read and discussed African-American poetry and talked about her involvement with Lee Daniels’ film.
When asked if she was going to attend the Academy Awards ceremony on March 7th, she said she was undecided. “I’m not sure if it’s my place,” she said, “I didn’t write the screenplay and I’m not sure if I want to buy a designer dress.”
Sapphire’s involvement with the film was limited, but Lee Daniels did consult with her. She praised him for staying true to the rhythm and flow of her prose, and was honored that he worked so hard to raise money and get this movie made.