There was a girl called Precious. She's black, uneducated, severely obese, already a mother and pregnant with her second child, sexually abused by her mother's boyfriend, and mentally and physically abused by her mother. And she is only 17.
Precious, based on the novel Push by Sapphire, is a hard-hitting look into the life of a young inner-city girl in Harlem in 1987. Claireece Precious Jones has had no luck in her short life, and all she wants is to be a part of a family. She wants someone to encourage her, someone to hug her, and most important, someone to love her. Her mother gives her anything but. Played by Monique in what is the tour de force performance of the year, she allows her daughter to be sexually molested by her boyfriend (these are the most brutal scenes in the film), and has taken to mentally and at times physically torturing her helpless daughter. The mother spews hatred at Precious, almost at times nearly killing her. Even her own mother is afraid of her. You can even anticipate the hell her mother is going to give her when Precious goes back home after delivering her second baby. And just when you think Precious is finally safe at home, her mother shows otherwise. Monique, a comedienne from the US, has won both the Academy Award and BAFTA for her performance, a performance which is a once in a lifetime for any actress.
Precious is sent to a school for young mothers where she finally starts learning. Her mind delves into dreamland when bad things happen to her, but the reality is that she needs to take control of her own life and that of her two children. She is taken under the wing of her teacher, Ms. Blu Rain, played sensitively and gently by Paula Patton. (Watch for her, she has the potential to be a leading actress, and is very good in this film. Her role is not as showcasey as Monique's, but it almost just as good). Precious also sees a counselor, Ms. Weiss, excellently played by an amazingly subdued and unglamorous Mariah Carey. Ms. Weiss attempts to understand what Precious has gone through, but can anyone really understand? More bad news awaits Precious, but she is determined to escape from her mother and to be a good mother to her children.
In a movie full of excellent female performances, the one sour note is the actress who plays Precious - Gabourey Sidibe. She seems to be playing herself, an obese young black woman. Sure, she cries at times, and smiles fewer times, but in a role which required an actress who can deliver against the other women in this film, Sidibe fails to live up to this caliber. Even Mariah Carey's performance is better. But who else was the director Lee Daniels going to cast as the lead in this film?
Precious is a harsh, in your face, hard-to-swallow film. It is also shocking to think that there are young women out there living lives like this. Is there any mother who could be as mean as Precious's mom? And while we're asking questions, was it really necessary to film a movie as severe and brutal as this?
The Lovely Bones
Another movie which deals with the tragedy of a young girl is The Lovely Bones, Peter Jackson’s vision of the popular book by Alice Sebold.
Fourteen-year old Susie Salmon is raped and murdered by her neighbor, and is left to float between heaven and earth until her murder is resolved. In the meantime, her killer walks free and her parents and siblings have a hard time coping with the event. Unlike in Precious, The Lovely Bones does not explicitly show the attack on Susie, but it does comes across more like a fantasy and less like a serious film, and therefore does not really work.
Director Jackson throws in lots of imagery as Susie is stuck between both worlds, which, while beautiful to look at, takes away from the storyline. Jackson must still be thinking he is working on a Lord of the Rings film, as this movie seems to have as many special effects as that trilogy. Reality and fantasy are mixed in so it feels like two different movies, and while we understand why Susie is in this fantasy world, the story could’ve been told sensitively by focusing on her life as a young girl murdered for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
A great performance by Saoirse Ronan in the role as Susie saves this movie a bit. This role is as tough as Sibide’s, but Ronan is an accomplished actress (having appeared in the critically acclaimed Atonement), so she easily pulls off the acting skills required and delivers, whereas Sibide fails to maker her performance believable to the audience.
Oscar nominee Stanley Tucci plays the neighbor who lives down the road from the Salmons. He is a creepy, odd and lonely man, and Tucci is amazing in this role. It will be hard to separate the character from the actor as he is that good.
The rest of the cast is wasted. Susan Sarandon is the grandmother who steps in when Susie’s parents grieve her loss, and she smokes and drinks to excess, and she doesn’t even know how to cook and operate the washing machine. Mark Wahlberg as the father and Rachel Weisz as the mother seem to be sleepwalking in the film, while Weisz looks far too young to be the mother of Susie and her sister and brother.
There are some inconsistencies in the film and some hard to believe moments, but overall, if this film had been more carefully constructed to follow the book, it would have been a much better film.