Precious: Once Will Be Enough for Me

20 Nov

I went to see Precious with a close friend of mine.  When we got the chance to discuss what we had just seen, we agreed on a key point: we never want to see this movie again. The story of Clarice Precious Jones, an obese, black sixteen-year-old living in 1987 Harlem, is peppered with fetishisms of poverty.  Precious, though hopeful at its conclusion, often panders to those who like to gawk at abuse and impoverishment.

The film introduces us to Precious as a daydreaming 8th-grader with dreams of getting out of Harlem. Unfortunately for Precious, she has a horribly abusive mother (Mo’nique, who may very well receive an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress) and is pregnant with her second child by a disgusting rapist of a man, her own father.  When her school principal learns that she is pregnant, Precious is expelled and referred to an “alternative school.” There she meets kind Ms. Rain (Paula Patton), who seems as though she will stop at nothing to help Precious.

At first it was a bit difficult for me to feel any empathy for Precious. However, I did quickly realize that my life is beyond ideal when compared with that of Precious’. There are numerous scenes in which Precious does mean, horrible, stupid things: she steals a 10-piece bucket of chicken, she kicks a frying pan at her mother, only receiving more wrath in return, and refers to her first child as a mongoloid (the little girl has Down Syndrome).

The climactic scene in which Precious reveals a secret to her teacher and classmates oozed with sickly treacle; Ms. Rain continues to urge Precious to write, but realistically, who would ever want to write at such a low point? The forced histrionics of the scene made me cringe.

There are constant reminders of Precious’ poverty everywhere in the film. The food Precious is forced to cook for her mother is dripping in grease (in one scene Precious’ mother forces her to eat pig’s feet that she deems “too hairy”). Perhaps, most importantly, Precious is virtually illiterate. Intermittent fantasies Precious plays out in her mind show Gabby Sidibe dolled up in makeup and elegant gowns, a far cry from the uniform of a sweatshirt and Adidas that Precious dons. The escapism that Precious finds within her mind is the only reward she can conjure.  By the end of the film, Precious is living in a half-way house, reading at an 8th grade level, and trying to raise her children on her own. This may not seem an ideal situation, but for Precious, hope has finally surfaced in the doldrums of Harlem.

I am unsure of whether this film made an impact on my worldview; it did make me momentarily more conscious of the perils of physical and sexual abuse, but as soon as we exited the theater, my friend and I exchanged the same words: “Our lives are great compared to Precious.” If one can take something away from this film, it may as well be that the awareness that someone has it worse than you (no matter how bad things seem to get).

Other than granting me with a moment of selfless mental clarity, Precious is full of lively performances that are in definite need of recognition.  All of the hype over Mo’nique’s performance is well-warranted – she plays hateful, manipulative, and predatory all in one shot.  Gabby Sidibe was also great (in her film debut), and even Mariah Carey turned in some hard work as a plain Jane social worker. All that was Glitter may be soon forgotten.

If you are contemplating whether you should see this movie and you are lucky enough to live in a city with a theater playing it, do it already.  Everyone is talking about it anyway and at Oscar time you will have a better grasp on the nominees.

Grade: B+

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