Novel Push by Sapphire
- Rated R
- Buy the DVD
All photos © Lionsgate
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
fter winning both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” is poised to become a major player during award season. Underneath all the overrated praise and Oprah Winfrey-led publicity campaign, however, is a rather mediocre film that doesn’t induce any real emotions so much as it makes anyone that doesn’t leave the theater in tears feel like a cold-hearted bastard. Do people really buy into this kind of heavy-handed melodrama so easily? Because while “Precious” certainly looks the part of the powerful award-worthy drama, it does very little to convince the audience that it actually is.
Set in Harlem circa 1987, the film stars newcomer Gabbourey Sidibe as Claireece “Precious” Jones, an obese 16-year-old girl who’s pregnant with her second baby by her own father. Physically and verbally abused by her mother (Mo’Nique), who sits at home all day long watching game shows and living off the welfare from her daughter, Precious suppresses the pain by fantasizing about a life of glitz and glamour. When she’s suspended from school for being pregnant, however, Precious enrolls in a GED prep class taught by a kindly teacher (Paula Patton) who recognizes her hidden potential. Of course, that doesn’t stop her mother from trying to keep her down, so when the chance to leave her destructive home environment for a shot at a normal life presents itself, Precious finally takes a stand.
For a film produced by Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, “Precious” is everything you’d expect it to be. It’s gritty, raw and completely unapologetic, but it also comes off a bit ugly and exploitative as well. Flashbacks to rape scenes are intercut with images of sizzling eggs and boiling pig’s feet, while Precious’ monstrosity of a mother feels exaggerated for sheer shock value. Unfortunately, director Lee Daniels expects the audience to just accept everything at face value without asking any questions, like why it’s taken a second pregnancy for anyone to get involved, or why the social service system is so easily duped by her conniving mother. These are questions that need to be addressed, but Daniels is so busy punishing his lead character that he simply never finds the time.
This is where the movie begins to fall apart, because despite some solid performances from its cast – including a surprising turn by Mariah Carey as a dowdy social worker – there’s not much to the actual story. Like most Oscar bait, it’s very one-dimensional, and though Precious’ home life is shocking at first, you eventually become desensitized to all the horrible stuff that happens to her along the way. After that, there’s nothing more to keep you engaged. Even the supposedly uplifting outcome is pretty hopeless, and when it’s over, you can’t help but wonder why you just spent two hours watching a teenage girl get abused. Some people might enjoy all that doom and gloom because it's oh so realistic, but for those that don't, the real victim of “Precious” is the audience.
Single-Disc DVD Review:
Lionsgate has put together a nice collection of special features for the film’s DVD release, including a commentary with director Lee Daniels, a casting featurette, and interviews with Daniels, Sapphire and writer Geoffrey Fletcher about adapting the book for the big screen. Rounding out the set is an interview with Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry about how they got involved as producers on the film, a deleted scene where Precious attends an incest survivors meeting, and Gabourey Sidibe’s audition tape.