Superb acting outshines Lee Daniels’ made-for-TV-esque blaxploitation film
2.5 out of 5 Stars
Directed by Lee Daniels;
with Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe, Mo’Nique.
Opens today at the
Angelika Mockingbird Station.
Life is clearly a bitch and Precious never lets you forget it. In this new film, director Lee Daniels tells the story of an obese, pregnant black teenager with even more adjectives to add as the movie unfolds. But despite surprising performances by the cast, the movie itself suffers from too many clichÃ©s.
In 1987 Harlem, Precious (Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe) likes math, has a crush on her teacher and has hopes for some kind of future that isn’t a reflection of the live she’s lived so far. Her physically and mentally abusive mother Mary (Mo’Nique) scams the welfare system and yells at her for no reason. When Precious comes home to her dingy walk-up from school, her mother knocks her unconscious in which she enters her dream world/memory, recalling her father raping her but escaping into Ally McBeal-ish daydreams of stardom and red carpets.
The unwieldy-titled Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire enters the world of blaxploitation, recalling those focused on the African-American experience like Cooley High or Five on the Black Hand Side. The movie is thick with a suffocating melodrama that hardly gives poor Precious (or the audience) a break.
Weirdly, though, a substantial amount of comedy connects the heavier moments. If you’re not laughing out loud at some funny bits, then you’re sneering at Mary and boohooing for Precious. It’s a manipulative emotional roller coaster that would work much better as an HBO movie. Instead, the Oprah and Tyler Perry machine that produced the movie could drive it all the way to the Oscars.
Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Despite what’s wrong with the story, the acting is outstanding. Mo’Nique transforms from sassy comedian into one of the worst movie villains of all time. She’s the epitome of ugly and hateful, capturing a damaged woman and delivering it with the power of a bazooka. Mariah Carey in a small role as a social worker runs with an unglamorous part, staving off Glitter jokes from now on with a quietly honest performance.
But the star is newcomer Sidibe. She takes the audience way past her exterior into a soul that is severely scarred but somehow hopeful. Sidibe’s understated portrayal speaks volumes but when she’s registering concise emotions, it’s both genuine and truthful and surpasses the movie itself.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 13, 2009.