Precious

Released:  2009

Cast:  Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Sherri Shepherd, Lenny Kravitz

Oscar Wins:  Best Supporting Actress (Mo’Nique), Best Adapted Screenplay (Geoffrey Fletcher)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Picture, Best Director (Lee Daniels), Best Actress (Gabourey Sidibe), Best Film Editing (Joe Klotz)

SUMMARY:  In 1987, 16-year-old Claireece Precious Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) is kicked out of her public school when it is discovered that she is pregnant with her second child.  However, her principal suggests an alternative school, called Each One Teach One.  Precious lives in a Harlem ghetto with her mother, Mary (Mo’Nique), who is emotionally and physically abusive.  Both of Precious’s children were fathered by her own father, the result of rapes:  the first child, a girl with Down syndrome named Mongoloid, lives with Mary’s mother.  However, Mary pretends that “Mongo” lives with her, so that she can get more money from welfare.  She does not see the point of Precious going to school, instead advising her to get on welfare.  However, Precious decides to go to the alternative school the next day.  When it is discovered that her reading and writing skills are nearly nonexistent, she is put into a remedial class, with a handful of other students.  Their teacher, Blu Rain (Paula Patton), gives a writing assignment each day, and also provides tutoring for reading.  Gradually, Precious’s English skills start to improve (as do those of the other students).  For the first time in her life, Precious begins talking in class and sharing things about her life.  She also begins talking intermittently to a social worker named Ms. Weiss (Mariah Carey), in order to get welfare.  However, when Precious reveals that her two children are the products of incest, Mary’s welfare is cut off.

Precious does not learn about this right away, as she goes into labor while at school, and spends several days in the hospital.  She gives birth to a son, Abdul, and is often visited by her classmates.  She also forms a bond with a male nurse, John McFadden (Lenny Kravitz), who gives her money at Christmas.  When she does go back to her mother’s apartment, Mary purposely drops Abdul and jumps Precious.  For the first time, Precious fights back.  She then takes Abdul and flees the house; with nowhere else to go, she breaks into school and spends the night there.  Ms. Rain spends the next day trying to find Precious a place to stay, and eventually arranged a place in a halfway house.  That night, she stays with Ms. Rain, and is surprised to find that her teacher has a girlfriend (and that homosexuals are not as terrible as her mother had always sworn).  Precious soon gets settled in the halfway house with Abdul, and continues to attend school.  Things seem to be going well for her, but one day her mother reappears and tells Precious that her father has died of AIDS.  Precious gets herself and Abdul tested, and finds out that while Abdul is fine, she is HIV-positive.  During a visit with Ms. Weiss, she steals her case file and learns that they want her to become a domestic assistant.  Precious demonstrates her improvements in math by figuring out how much money she would make this way; based on this, and her desire to be something better, she rejects the idea.  During her visit with Ms. Weiss, she also learns that her mother wants to be reunited; a meeting is arranged at the social worker’s office.  Ms. Weiss is now fully aware of the abuse Precious has suffered, and confronts Mary about it, particularly the rapes that led to pregnancies.  Mary finally breaks down and admits that she allowed the rapes to happen in order to keep her boyfriend happy.  However, her boyfriend’s desire for Precious also turned Mary against her daughter.  She pleads with Precious to come home, and even brings in Mongo to demonstrate her goodwill.  Precious is not swayed, and tells her mother that Mary will never see her, or her children, again:  she then picks up both kids and walks out.  Mary pleads with Ms. Weiss to get Precious back, but Ms. Weiss also walks away.  Outside, Precious walks down the street with her children, dreaming of her future.

MY TAKE:  This is one of those movies that is inspiring but really, really hard to watch.  Precious is horribly abused by both of her parents, and really doesn’t have any hope of bettering her situation.  She’s sixteen years old, with two kids (one with Down syndrome), and can’t read or write.  And yet, for some reason, she refuses to believe that she’s as worthless as her mother repeatedly tells her.  Luckily for her, the principal of her public school also sees something, and gets her enrolled in Each One Teach One.  Precious finally finds herself in an environment where people care about her, and want to help her.  Her language ability improves dramatically, and when she begins to value herself more, she refuses to take more abuse.  With the help of Ms. Rain and Mrs. Weiss, she gets herself into a better situation.  It’s devastating when you learn that she’s HIV-positive, because it’s like the straw that broke the camel’s back.  She’s gone through so much, and is finally seeing the light on the other side, only to have something like that smack her in the face.  To make it worse, it’s through absolutely no fault of her own:  she got it when her father raped her.  Thankfully, she doesn’t give up or do something crazy, but continues to work for a better future.  Gabourey Sidibe is amazing as Precious, but I think the performance that blew everybody away was Mo’Nique as Mary, Precious’s mother.  I think most people, including myself, thought of her in terms of her comedy career and comic roles, sort of like Sherri Shepherd, who also appears in this movie.  To see her completely transform, into this horrible woman, is astounding and a little scary.  She’s terrifying as Mary, which demonstrates just how talented she is.  She totally deserved that Oscar.

RATING:  Awful and great at the same time.

 

 

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