Precious - A Hard Knock and Then Some

All of the Oscar buzz about this movie is well aimed. Adapted by Geoffrey Fletcher from the novel Push by Sapphire, Precious tells the hard hitting story of an obese Harlem teenager, pregnant with a second child by her father, living with an abusive mother who collects welfare on the first child of incest. Directed by Daniel Lee, who directed Monster Ball some years earlier, Precious makes a very powerful point. It’s a woman’s world. Virtually all of the primary characters in the movie are women, disadvantaged women, abusive and abused women, young women, women holding the life line, all of them women of color to some degree. The only featured male is a maternity nurse, played by Lenny Kravitz.

Not only is the story a powerful look at the underbelly of ghetto life, the performances are spellbinding. Gabourey Sedibi, as Clarise Precious Jones, is the embodiment of hopelessness in the ghetto, holding a minimal grasp of the education available to her within the cesspool of abuse surrounding her. She escapes the self loathing clutching her by retreating into fantasy to a world at the opposite end of the spectrum. Her mother, in a wrenching performance by Mo’nique, throws all the rage from years of rejection by her boyfriend at Precious, who, as an unwitting rival, ignites her mother’s resentment constantly.

When Precious is discharged from her school as the result of her pregnancy, she is pointed to Each One Teach One, an alternative school for those needing to retain access to literacy. Her teenage female classmates include, among others, a Jamaican illegal immigrant, a Latino mother who talks the ghetto tongue as fluently as any of its black residents and a slick, yet sweet, black girl in the music industry. They’re hot tempered, they’re sassy and they’re hard. When Precious unexpectedly gives birth to her baby, they hang out at the hospital with her, teasing the male nurse as only these teenagers can.

Holding the life line at Each One Teach One is Ms. Rain, a teacher, played by Paula Patton, who is the crowbar in these girls’ lives that moves them forward when no other options are at hand. She is literate, sensitive and caring, strong enough to take on students like these and, as we learn later, lesbian. At the welfare office sits Mariah Carey as the caseworker in a no-nonsense depiction of the hand that gives in that part of town.

Precious is a beautiful movie not only for the story it tells, but also for the empowerment it showers on the disenfranchised as a mainstream film. These people are acknowledged not as a problem or a demographic, but as people, the women of color to whatever degree, ghetto dwellers, abused and abusers, welfare recipients, unwed mothers, obese, lesbian, illiterate, the unsung life lines working within the system, all alongside a solitary, nurturing male in a splendid role reversal. This is a beautiful movie that lingers.

- Eryka M. Fraczek