Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire
Starring Gabourey Sidibe, Mo'Nique, and Mariah Carey. Rated 14A. Opens Friday, November 27, at the Cinemark Tinseltown and the Fifth Avenue Cinemas
There's some audaciously crazy-ass guts behind the film Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire, and that's not counting its perversely unwieldy title. Next to the pubescent wizards and vampires mooning and swooning on-screen these days, the obese, abused black teenager in inner-city hell here—with her second child about to pop out and her mother flinging frying pans at her head—might feel just a tad disconcerting, like getting on the wrong subway.
Watch the trailer for Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire.
“You're a dummy. Don't nobody want you,” mother Mary tells the 16-year-old daughter she named Claireece Jones. Played with swaggering brutality by comedian-actor Mo'Nique, Mary isn't a woman to whom you'd point out the irony of her child's nickname, Precious. Trapped in squalor with this she-monster in 1987 Harlem, the illiterate Precious (Gabourey Sidibe), whose pregnancies were the result of rape by her otherwise AWOL father, could use some help. Her daydreams of music-video stardom—seen in flamboyant fantasy sequences that could go so wrong but somehow work, largely due to Sidibe's go-for-it playfulness—aren't going to cut it.
Landing in an alternative school, Precious catches the attention of a caring teacher (an affectingly empathetic Paula Patton) and there's a glimmer of daylight in this near-gothic nightmare. Among the film's curious but inspired casting choices, rocker Lenny Kravitz turns up as a sweet hospital nurse and Mariah Carey, unrecognizably dowdy with a Bronx-and-cigarettes accent, is dead-on as a perceptive welfare worker.
Despite moments of levity, director Lee Daniels and screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher, who adapted the source novel, aren't guys who shrink from jaw-droppingly harrowing stuff visited upon a child, even a really large child. But Daniels's kamikaze style succeeds with help from some pretty fearless performers, including poised newcomer Sidibe. It's a deeply heart-busting story about finding self-realization—and, on occasion, stealing a bucket of fried chicken.