Review: 'Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire'

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)
2.0 out of four skulls

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About Grim D. Reaper, your death angel critic

Your death angel critic for film at MovieCrypt.com.
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2 Responses to Review: 'Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire'

  1. William says:

    Just a sampling of your reviews on this site shows a very provincial mind. Everything you take away from a film is just too superficial to be read with any seriousness. Also, you seem to have some major issues with other races and homosexuals. You compare this film to The Blind Side simply because they both have African-American characters . And oh god, your review of Milk: Did you really say “lifestyle choice” in your comments section? Is it 1963 or 2010? Somewhere in Hoboken, you’re in your parents’ basement wearing a skull mask when you should be getting out and meeting the rest of the world. All joking aside, it will help your writing.

  2. Thank you, William, for restoring my faith in humanity! I didn’t think ANYONE would take the bait and actually comment on my review of “Precious!”

    Of course, one thing you failed to notice is that I never mentioned the fact of race in either “Precious” or the “Blind Side,” let alone the media term “African-American.” I said “Precious” was a poorly constructed film that was coasting on its subject matter; what review were YOU reading?

    Finally, what I wrote in the review was “Milk seems to start too late in Harvey’s life, then defines his lifestyle as a synonym for the man himself and anyone else.” My point was that the film seemed to concentrate ONLY on the fact he was gay, even as a historically inaccurate jab that he was killed because of it, when in fact there was plenty more about the man and his life that was hinted at and never explored. Who were the other lovers who committed suicide, and why did they kill themselves? You, on the other hand, seem to be hanging on that old nurture vs. nature conundrum, whether being gay is a choice or not. Again, when there’s plenty of additional story omitted, is this all you can point out?

    Assuming you took offense to the word “choice,” let’s explore that a moment by trying out the following phrases: “I’m a polygamist and I just can’t help myself?” “I’m a rapist and I just can’t help myself?” “I’m a pedophile and I just can’t help myself?” And finally “I’m a murderer and I just can’t help myself?” If these aren’t “choices,” then who’s to decide who’s right and who’s wrong? I’m just being who I have to be, right? And no one should ever have to or be required curb their behavior in order to co-exist with one another because of who they are deep down inside, am I right?

    Of course, if it isn’t a choice, then it must be genetic! A potentially cancerous mutation that, if caught early enough can be corrected. If we can just isolate the orientation gene, we can make a pill an instantly cure all homosexuals everywhere!

    Have I beaten up the word “choice” enough yet?

    William, I’m a film critic, and I prefer my movies to live up to their promise and potential. If you can’t see past flesh tones and orientation to notice when a film is well constructed or not, then I would suggest that you don the mask of your choice and hide out in your parents’ basement until all the world’s social problems are solved and it’s safe to come out… all joking aside.

Have Your Cinematic Say, Mortal.

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