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New Review: Precious

November 2, 2009


By Michelle Emanuel, Guest Blogger

Anyone who follows the world of indie film has surely heard the story of “Precious,” the Lee Daniels film that premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival as “Push,” an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Sapphire.  The bleak yet compelling story of an obese 16-year-old girl, illiterate and pregnant for the second time by her father, pulled the rare hat trick of scoring both the grand prize and audience award of the festival, and then went on to score two executive producers in Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey, thus guaranteeing that what would have been an obscure film in a handful of theaters will now play in multiplexes.

And for this, we should count ourselves lucky, because this is a film that deserves to be seen in public, with a crowd and, preferably, discussed afterwards.

Set in 1987 Harlem, in an age of AIDS and crack, before welfare reform, Clareece Precious Jones lives with her abusive mother, Mary, while her first child lives a safer life with her grandmother.  With her second pregnancy, Precious is transferred to an alternative school where she finally gets the personalized attention that she has always needed, and for the first time in her life, she is asked what she wants to be.  Her classmates, other girls who were ill-suited for traditional schools , provide rare flickers of comic relief in what is a harrowing story.  Precious is abused physically, sexually, and verbally by those who should be fighting on her behalf instead of trying to keep her down.

Why should anyone want to watch such an uncomfortable story?  Because the performances are amazing.  Famous faces from Mo’Nique to Lenny Kravitz to Mariah Carey to “The View’s” Sherri Shepherd are so committed to their roles, they are practically unrecognizable.  But it is newcomer Gabourey Sidibe who is the true revelation of this film, and while she was chosen for the part because of her unique look, hopefully this will not be the only film of her career.

I saw a special screening of “Precious” as part of October’s Austin Film Festival, where the film played to a sold-out crowd of 1,300 people who managed to take a break from their conversations and cell phones to see something truly special.  The fact that a film managed to hold their attention for nearly two hours is a testament to its power and appeal.

Because of all the hype this film has received, especially after Winfrey and Perry came on board and appeared at the Toronto Film Festival in September, I was bracing to be disappointed in the film itself.  However, I am pleased to report, that never actually happened.

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