Film Reviews

PRECIOUS

By • Dec 2nd, 2009 •

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I abandoned the book early on. It was unreadable and written in ebonics. With every page my IQ dropped 10 points. The film, however, is astonishing and simply brilliant.

Who is Sapphire’s Machiavellian agent? How did Sapphire get the name of her novel and her name in the title? It is so outrageously egotistical and offensive that I am amazed Sapphire allowed Lee Daniels to direct and Geoffrey Fletcher to write the screenplay.

I bet Sapphire had to be talked out of her demand to play Precious.

The brilliance of PRECIOUS belongs to director Lee Daniels. He got fantastic performances out of newcomer Gabourey Sidibe (who plays “Precious”), Mo’Nique (as her mother, Mary), Paula Patton and even Lenny Kravitz and Mariah Carey.

Mariah Carey desperately wants to be an actress. Misguided and humiliated early on (GLITTER), she is now on the right track. She makes a terrific impression in her low-key, small but important role. Why do singers and models (Cindy Crawford jumps to mind) think their first movie role should be as the star?

As for Mo’Nique, she had me leaving the theater shaking. This is the fearless performance impossible to beat in the Best Supporting Actress category (though gossip sites said Mo’Nique was already a high-strung diva, demanding money for interviews. We know (but apparently not Mo’Nique) that nominees and potential nominees have to wine, dine, and pick up Academy voters’ dry cleaning.)

Mo’Nique, get with the program. Voters expect personal appearances at screenings and lunches. George Clooney probably made house calls – not that he didn’t deserve to win Best Supporting Actor for SYRIANA, but you know he wasn’t about to leave it to chance.)

Carey will take her great reviews and jump into a silly romantic comedy with Gerard Butler; Mo’Nique will star in anything that shows her off as a glamorous and desirable woman. They will both get top billing and lots of screen time. They will care more about their wardrobe budget than the screenplay.

PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL PUSH BY SAPPHIRE is the story of 16-year-old Clarice (“Precious”) who must have once been “precious” but is now pregnant for the second time from her father. Precious has a Down’s Syndrome daughter (Precious calls her “Mongo”) who is cared for by her grandmother and an unhappy, resentful mother. Mary beats her and treats Precious like a house slave.

Precious is obese and, after continued humiliation at school, is offered a chance to join an alternative educational program. The few students in the program must write in a journal every day. Even though Precious cannot read, she can write!

Precious comes under the care of teacher Ms. Rain (Paula Patton) and social worker Mrs. Weiss (Carey). Director Daniels gives us an intimate look into the inner life of Precious, showing that in her fantasies, she is a blond, blue-eyed girl. Her rich fantasy life – her marriage to her math teacher, her career as a famous rap star – helps her survive the abject cruelty of her life.

I loved the small touches that Daniels gave this harrowing story. There is not one moment that looks manufactured.

Sidibe is sensational and perfect. While I gave away the book, I am nominating PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL PUSH BY SAPPHIRE for Best Picture of 2009 and Lee Daniels for Best Director. Mo’Nique has given the best performance of 2009.


Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email. You can contact Victoria directly at masauu@aol.com.

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8 Responses »

  1. “I abandoned the book early on. It was unreadable and written in ebonics. With every page my IQ dropped 10 points. The film, however, is astonishing and simply brilliant.”

    “Who is Sapphire’s Machiavellian agent? How did Sapphire get the name of her novel and her name in the title? It is so outrageously egotistical and offensive that I am amazed Sapphire allowed Lee Daniels to direct and Geoffrey Fletcher to write the screenplay.”

    I thought Ms. Alexander was kidding with this ignorant, ridiculous remarks, but it seems, somehow, that this is not the case. I simply cannot understand how somehow who enjoyed a film so much, could so quickly dismiss the brilliant novel from which “Precious” was based on. “Unreadable and written in ebonics?” I think it is almost comical (and borderline racist) that middle-class white people are still using the word “Ebonics” to describe language that sounds – gasp! – different from their own, but I what I really have hard time understanding is how Alexander does not realize that the broken and “unreadable” English that is used in “Push” is employed for a literary purpose. Perhaps if Alexander’s IQ did not drop 10 points with each page of “Push” (as she claimed that it did) she could have understood that since the character of Precious, who is borderline illiterate (or at least a beginning reader/writer), poor, black, and from the inner-city, is the narrator, the narration is going to be written in broken, misspelled, poorly constructed “Ebonics.” The idea is that this poor, inner-city, uneducated, black youth is telling her story, not long after she learns to read and write – how would you expect the narrative to sound? If Ms. Alexander challenged herself a bit, and continued on with “Push,” she would have had the opportunity to experience an amazinly original, heartfelft, raw, and poignant work of art. Since the Precious character and the “Push” story are entirely Sapphire’s creations, it doesn’t seem that strange (and definitely not “egotistical” or “offensive”) that her name is attached to the movie. If Alexander had not abandoned “Push” so quickly, she would have realized that everything that is great about the film – the frighteningly real depiction of Precious’ struggle and her ability to succeed against all odds – is beautifully depicted in the novel. It is a great injustice to praise the film “Precious,” yet write off Sapphire and her novel. Without Sapphire and “Push,” there would be no “Precious,” regardless of Daniels’ great direction and the wonderful performances of the actors.

  2. My sentiments exactly, Dan. You took the wordsright our of my mouth. Besides, if this is a review of the movie, leave your biased comments about the novel out since you couldn’t bare to finish it.

  3. “I abandoned the book early on. It was unreadable and written in ebonics. With every page my IQ dropped 10 points.”

    You must be joking. The use of Black English Vernacular, or “ebonics,” as you call it, has nothing to do with a lack of intelligence. It is a language used by the under-educated and the over-educated alike. And the use of Black English Vernacular in novels is typically a means of enabling the reader to delve deeper into the world in which the story is set. What language do you think the characters were using in the movie?

    It’s nice to know that you’re a willing spectator in the study of the black experience, but not a willing participant. Keep up the good work.

  4. OK ..Boys .If Victoria is indeed the “Jackson Pollack of film reviewers” on this site then I must be the de Kooning of columists……right?

  5. Hmm… No.

  6. Um, I believe, she or the creator’s of the movie used Sapphire’s name and title included in this film’s title because there was also another movie entitled PUSH released at the same time. And for one, I am very glad that Sapphire got the credit she deserved. I first read Sapphire’s poetry American Dream and then Push nearly 15 years ago. I was deeply moved by the novel and hung with it in much the same way I hung in there with Zora Neale Hurston’s, Their Eyes Were Watching God. I put Hurston’s book down in the late 70’s and walked a way for a bit because the language challenged me. And man, I am very glad I went back and had the fortitude to finish it. Perhaps it also prepared me for Push by Sapphire many years later. Both books deepened me.

  7. AGREED Dan. I’ve never read this woman’s column before, so I don’t know what she is “known” for. But her dismissal of African American Vernacular English as “Ebonics” and somehow intellectually inferior (as opposed to marginal or non-normative) is highly offensive. It is not borderline racist to demonize people’s language as inferior…it is just racist.

  8. You have to be a “reader” to get the gist of how and why the book was written in broken english. The author actually became the character. It’s written in first person to show the reader how Precious progressed as a person. If she had not “abandoned” the book, she would have seen that grammatically improved progression. She simply missed the whole spirit in which this was written. It’s sad that she didn’t “get” that because it is the very foundation of Precious’ persona, and the reader witnessed her gradual transformation in the improvement of her writing. An “educated” person would have figured that out.

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