Movie review: Precious: From the Novel PUSH by Sapphire

Part of the magic of movies is their ability to take you places you otherwise couldn't - or wouldn't - take yourself.

From the fantasy realm of extraterrestrial adventures to the life-and-death setting of a battlefield, film can teach us about ourselves by allowing us to experience the lives of others.

The advance hype on the clumsily titled Precious: Based on the Novel PUSH by Sapphire may already have convinced some that this film takes them places they don't want to go, that it is an experience to avoid - a look into a world of which they want no part. But Lee Daniels' film is a searing emotional experience, with a note of hope to leaven its sense of despair. It's solid, imaginative filmmaking, to boot.

Granted, describing the film's central character, Claireece Precious Jones (Gabourey Sidibe), is already almost a deal-breaker for many filmgoers. As the film begins, Claireece is an obese, illiterate, abused high-school dropout, pregnant with her second child. The film is set in the early 1980s, the cruel days of the Reagan era, which means Claireece is clearly in danger of becoming another poverty statistic, a forgotten person at the mercy of an overwhelmed social-welfare system - a life that's seemingly over before it's begun.

But she is saved by the principal of the school that expels her, who suggests an alternative school. There, for the first time, Claireece receives attention from someone who sees her for her potential, rather than as a space-filler or a nuisance. That teacher, Ms. Rain (Paula Patton), challenges Claireece to better herself, to learn to read and write, and does it in a way that pulls Claireece from the pit her life has become.

But it's not easy, because Claireece is being pulled back down daily by her mother, Mary (Mo'Nique). Abuse begets abuse and though we don't know Mary's story, we can feel it from the way she treats her daughter. She uses Claireece as her slave and punching bag, to give herself the illusion of power or control in a life where she has little of either.

There isn't much more plot than that: one teenager's struggle to take control of her life and overcome odds that are, at minimum, daunting. This is a film that doesn't shy away from the depths to which human beings can sink, but it also shows the strength and resilience of which we are capable, even at our lowest moments.


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