Compelling performances and an intriguing story undermined by poor direction and editing, and it’s a shame, too.
Precious (Gabourey ‘Gabby’ Sidibe) is an illiterate and overweight teen who is kicked out of school when discovered pregnant with her second child. Without a school to attend, Precious is forced to endure living with her mother Mary (Mo’Nique) in a rundown Harlem apartment while ducking an occasional swinging frying pan. A new opportunity presents itself when Precious is enrolled at an alternative school, but how can she succeed in a second chance at a better life while still living in the shadow of her hateful and self-serving mother?
There’s are some powerful performances in this film, from the lead role and her mother to the angelic school teacher Ms. Rain (Paula Patton) and the concerned social worker Mrs. Weiss (Mariah Carey.) The subject matter is equally affecting, showcasing the bottom rung of a society happy to provide taxpayer-funded cyclic welfare for poorly-supervised leaches instead of encouraging individuals to better their lives and themselves. The end product of the film, however, does a poor job of providing a flowing narrative that renders the story and subject matter inert. How did this go so wrong?
The problem is the flow of the story. From the moment we meet Precious and follow along on her big dreams and ambitions (before being jerked back into stark reality), the film doesn’t seem to be cut in any way that tells us what we should be feeling. It’s as if there are key scenes missing or edited out of order, and even the so-called “climatic ending” comes off dull and unaffecting. This is a story that really need told right in this day and age, but the performances deserved a considerably better cut or script to make this work.
We’re told the problem with “the poor” is that there isn’t enough to go around, hence the need for more money from more taxes. What we’re seeing instead is how the current welfare system becomes a cycle of resentment that breeds government-backed dependence while neglecting children as nothing more than a line item for bigger checks. More money can’t stop frying pans from flying, but more compassion and encouragement from the people in those communities to better themselves might lead to less resentment and more self-assurance from self-reliance. Given a choice, wouldn’t most people rather live their lives with a sense of pride providing for themselves than resolved to be forever dependent on everyone else?
The subject matter isn’t a happy one, but the cast steps up to look and act as needed to tell the story. Mo’Nique disappears into angry mother Mary, a welfare recipient who has learned to game the system and treats her child as her personal slave (yep, I said it.) Mariah Carey looks wonderfully awful as a haggard social worker who wants to help but has her hands tied by regulations. The there’s Gabourey ‘Gabby’ Sidibe as Precious herself, turning in a performance no less affecting than Quinton Aaron playing Michael Oher in The Blind Side. Sadly, the Precious production doesn’t live up to the performance of its cast or the weight of its subject matter. My only question is, why would you intentionally take a subject this difficult to show and make it into a film this difficult to watch?
(a two skull recommendation out of four)