Ever since this grim, gritty, urban drama won kudos at the Sundance, Cannes and Toronto Film Festivals and the endorsement of Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, it’s been generating industry hype and Oscar buzz, building on its themes of prejudice, incest, poverty and AIDS.
Poor, illiterate, morbidly obese, African-American 16 year-old Claireece “Precious” Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) has been raped by her father since she was a toddler, already bearing one Downs Syndrome child, named Morgan, and pregnant by him again – in 1987 – when she’s assigned to an alternative school, Each One/Teach One, where an altruistic, compassionate literacy workshop teacher, Ms. Blu Rain (Paula Patton), encourages her to keep a journal. Expressing her bleak despair and traumatic rage in poetry and prose allows angry, alienated, HIV-positive Precious to blossom with her first shred of self-esteem and a new sense of self-respect and self-determination. This infuriates the teenager’s jealous, foul-mouthed, welfare-cheating mother, Mary (Mo’Nique), a warped, sadistic predator who habitually abuses Precious – emotionally and physically – from her perch in front of the television set their filthy Harlem apartment.
While 26 year-old newcomer Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe is riveting – and she’s the voice-over narrator – upcoming Academy Award nominations will undoubtedly, and deservedly, also include stand-up comedienne Mo’Nique. There’s also a surprisingly deglamorized Mariah Carey as drab Mrs. Weiss, the patient social worker who finally has to intervene between Precious and her monstrous, self-absorbed mother, and Lenny Kravitz, who is nearly unrecognizable in a small role as a nurse. Screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher and director Lee Daniels (“Shadowboxer,” “The Woodsman”) are slavishly faithful to the socially-conscious 1996 novel by Sapphire (a.k.a. teacher/poet Romona Lofton), shooting reality with an almost-documentary sensibility while interspersing light-hearted sequences of sheer fantasy on a $10 million budget.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push'” by Sapphire’ is a shocking, street-smart 9, primarily for its memorably brazen and devastating performances