Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire

Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Editor's note: This review is based on the version of the film that screened at Sundance. The film was edited before it screened at Cannes.

Going to this year's Sundance must have been an odd experience for Lee Daniels. Despite producing the Oscar-winning Monster’s Ball and the difficult but critically praised The Woodsman, his first effort behind the camera – Shadowboxer – was drubbed both by reviewers and the box office. Yet, as soon as Push: Based On The Novel By Sapphire had its premiere, it was greeted by a wave of enthusiasm, topped off when it won both the Dramatic and Audience awards, plus an acting prize for comedian-turned-actress Mo'Nique.

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This is the story of Claireece 'Precious' Jones, whose nickname is laden with irony. Morbidly obese and pregnant for the second time around with her own father’s baby, she is illiterate and picked on at school. Her home life torment is compounded by an overbearing mum (Mo’Nique) who revels in abusing her daughter both emotionally and physically, leading Precious to escape into various fantasy worlds, where she imagines herself as a top-flight star.

Kicked out of school, a teacher sends her to an education programme, Each One Teach One, where, alongside other damaged young women and under the tutelage of Ms Rain (Paula Patton), she begins to find a strength to pull herself beyond her mother's expectations.

There are certainly things to praise about Daniel's film. He should be applauded for his bravery in tackling the grim subject matter with a surprisingly effective amount of humour, which acts as a welcome counterpoint to some very poignant emotional scenes. The acting, too, is fiercely compelling, with newcomer Gabourey Sidibe, who plays Precious, and Mo'Nique, on award-worthy form.

That said, the film is an uneven mishmash of genre, combining the cliche of downtrodden kids do good, with an incest plotline more in line with American independent films such as Hounddog and the over-familiar story of good teachers ensuring no one is left behind (think Freedom Writers, Dangerous Minds). The 'dream' sequences, in particular, feel like a camp nod to a completely different film and fit uneasily with the strong emotional themes present throughout the rest of the action. The constant changing mood also makes the pacing drag and the end result is that, even at 105 minutes, the film feels as bloated as Precious.

This is an actors' movie through and through, with all of them pulling off the key emotional scenes magnificently - in many instances in spite of an overly melodramatic and stilted script. In addition to the lead players, there is tremendous support from the likes of Mariah Carey (almost unrecognisable as a dowdy welfare woman) and the rest of Precious's class of no-hopers, who make you care deeply about each and every character.

If audiences at Sundance are to believed, this will certainly be a hit Stateside - and would be particularly suited to a northern, urban demographic - further afield in Europe, however, cinemagoers are likely to be less forgiving of its script and directorial failings, though the performances will still demand attention.

Reviewed on: 28 Mar 2009
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An obese teenager tries to escape from her hellish homelife with the help of an inspirational teacher.
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Director: Lee Daniels

Writer: Lee Daniels

Starring: Gabourey Sidibe, Paula Patton, Mo’Nique, Mariah Carey, Sherri Shepherd, Lenny Kravitz

Year: 2009

Runtime: 105 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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