“Everything’s a gift of the universe.”
With that remarkable line, this dank and deeply disturbing film defines its scope, mood and direction. Imagine the gift of two babies. The first, unfortunately, suffers from Down syndrome; the second seems healthy enough and manages to dodge the bullet of a father (Rodney Jackson) with AIDS. But no one can escape the reality that both pregnancies were incestuous rape. Worse, the lecherous man’s wife, Mary (Mo’Nique is horrifically superb) is bitterly jealous of her sexually abused daughter, Precious (played with courage, grit and inner passion by Gabourey Sidibe) and makes it her business to do everything she can to add to the poor girl’s misery.
Sapphire’s novel (Push) has been given an extraordinarily deft treatment in Geoffrey Fletcher’s screenplay. As grim as the main storyline is, a few dashes of humour (notably Lenny Kravitz’s wry tone as Nurse John) and hope (the closing frames are marvellously bittersweet) give this film a compelling honesty that largely eluded the creative team of The Blind Side (cross-reference below). The two central characters of both stories struggle against dysfunctional families and illiteracy. Both are black and extra heavy. Precious is an invention; Michael Oher still lives today. Seeing these productions in close proximity adds another layer of understanding to Mark Twain’s thought: “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t.” Curiously in this instance, the reverse proved to be the case: The Blind Side lacks the range and depth of actual back-story that might have made it soar into consciousness, while Precious speaks with unimaginable veracity in scene after scene.
Director Lee Daniels has been blessed with camera-ready material, a talented cast and first-class crew. His own troubled past and direct experience in the field of health care have contributed to the subtleties and insights that permeate the dark narrative.
The notion of self-esteem is examined from nearly every feasible angle. In the tough-love department are two women charged with harnessing Precious and getting her sorry existence on some kind of track other than perpetual despair. Ms. Rain (Paula Patton) gradually brings her obese charge into the world of the possible through the magically healing realm of words and ideas. Social worker Mrs. Weiss (Mariah Carey) thrusts and parries with the emotional time bomb that is her client and the mother from Hell. The patient ministrations from both begin to have some effect, even as second-born Abdul starts his incredible journey through life.
In this monstrous tale, the power of words for practitioners of the art of writing and those desperately finding their way out of human-made muck merge magnificently into a daunting fiction that overflows with fact. JWR