VOD film review: Precious
James R | On 07, Dec 2015
Director: Lee Daniels
Cast: Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz
Watch Precious online in the UK: TalkTalk TV / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
Life is not easy when you come from a broken home, especially one where your mother has ritually beaten you and your father has abused you. For Precious (Sidibe), this is life. One day, she discovers she’s pregnant with her father’s baby again. So she gets kicked out of school and into ‘alternative’ education, where she can become an educated woman – all is not lost, the system seems to say, because she’s good at maths.
Can you feel your heart warming yet? It may sound like a cynical response, but those strings are being tugged from the film’s opening frame. As Precious gets bullied in the street, her face shoved into the mud, she daydreams of being famous – a star. Cutting away to flights of fantasy, director Lee Daniels is keen to show us the hopes of our young protagonist, which are repeatedly crushed by a mother (Mo’Nique) who chases her up the stairs with a frying pan. But just when all happiness is lost, in steps socially conscious teacher Ms. Rain (Patton). She’s a moral icon who encourages Precious to read and write down what she feels. Still not feeling those heartstrings?
The problem with Precious is that it can’t shake that feeling of calculated playing sentimental cliches. It all feels a bit derivative – perhaps unfairly so. The performances by Gabriel Sidibe and the wonderfully malicious Mo’Nique are undeniably affecting, but it all reeks just a tad of awards baiting. It doesn’t help that every time Geoffrey Fletcher’s screenplay steps into a classroom, it suddenly turns into Sister Act 2 – one student ribs another for confusing the words “incest” and “insect”, despite the former being a serious source of trauma 10 minutes earlier.
It’s an uneven jump in tone, which seems to come down to an attempt at being positive and life-afflirming. However well intentioned, it also blunts the impact of a harrowing and well-acted story. Mariah Carey’s turn as a social worker and Oprah Winfrey’s name over the end credits only make the gears feel even more visible: Precious’ story is powerful, but you’re also partly aware that’s what Oprah would have wanted.