Published Nov 19, 2009Wildly unfocused, undisciplined and screeching in its oppressive search for a tone while shouting its worldly rages from the rooftops, Precious takes the word "draining" to a new level, offering up horrors aplenty to demand our impossible-to-repress empathy. This doesn't make it a good film in any real sense, as it's too overbearing to take seriously cinematically, but it will ensure a loyal following of PR-induced praise from folks that feel better about themselves when attached vicariously to an "issue."
Adapted by Damien Paul from a work by teacher and poet Sapphire, Precious tackles the story of the titular character (Gabourey Sidibe), pregnant, again, with her father's child, mute, illiterate and obese, fantasizing about life as a peppy white girl. It's not subtle in these implications, taking it a step further with a monstrous mother (played impressively by Mo'Nique) treating her like a slave, while smoking and watching daytime television.
Handled without sentimentality, despite the occasional melodrama interspersed with the realism, we understand the pattern of defeat and abuse, as Precious enrols in an alternative school where Blu Rain (Paula Patton) prepares her for her GED and classmates offer occasional glimmers of levity. Where Paula Patton is a little over-the-top, Mariah Carey tackles the unglamorous role of a welfare counsellor with surprising skill.
Brimming with stylization, no one would accuse Precious of subtlety, which isn't necessarily its fault, as stylistically the film exists to scream a sociological message of education in the face of oppression and cycles of poverty.
The problem here is that of too many failed risks and multiple personality disorder, as it may be hard to look away from the screen, but it's also hard to register artistic integrity with so many directions and voices lurching about.
This leaves the final impact of the film to individual (or, more accurately, peer group) taste, as some will surely respect the uncompromising lack of restraint on display, while others will find it desultory and autocratic. Regardless, as a narrative, the film is only partially successful, understanding emotion but not technique. (Maple)