Precious, a film about an obese black Harlem teenager who is pregnant with her second child by her rapist father, is now available for rental or purchase on DVD. It deserves the highest rating, but it’s nevertheless important to note that it is deeply disturbing, certainly not suitable for sheltered young people (if there is such a thing these days) without a high dose of guidance.
Three words to describe it:
Revelatory. Most privileged white people know nothing of this world. It is as vivid and emotionally honest a look inside as we are likely to see.
Wrenching. The plight of “Precious” (never was there a more ironic nickname) is more taxing to absorb than almost any movie I have ever seen. Anyone with half a heart or half a soul is going to be somewhat torn up after watching it. It’s the price we need to pay to gain some empathy and understanding.
Motivating. Rarely are “message” movies truly motivating. Either they are pious, sentimental, feel-good stories (much as I enjoyed The Blind Side, I’m afraid it fits that category) or they are tendentious, didactic, and self-congratulatory. This one is different. It could be described as “redemptive,” but it is too brutal and open-ended for that, leaving us in doubt as to the future outcome for Precious and her two children. It isn’t asking us to shed a tear or two. Even less is it calling upon us to “do something!” or “get involved!’ Instead, it asks us for understanding and for resilience. Understanding, because it really takes an effort to understand unattractive, unpleasant people with whom we have no real contact. Resilience, because it takes even more effort to carry understanding and empathy into the real world where mere good intentions are useless.
In addition, admirers of acting will have a feast day. Mo’nique deserved her Oscar and more. It’s not her portrayal of Precious’ monstrous mother per se that shatters, for that was relatively easy–it’s her breakdown at the end, an astonishing depiction of psychological truth requiring every resource that an actor has to call upon. An almost unrecognizable Mariah Carey also deserves great credit for her willingness to do without makeup or hairdressing (the other social worker is a bit too glamorous to be believable). And Gabby Sidibe, a complete neophyte, gives a very courageous performance as well in the role of Precious.
There is also a very strong scene illustrating the haplessness of unskilled caseworkers who, as we know from the news reports of so many tragic children’s deaths from abuse, fail to pick up the telltale signs of an abusive home. This, too, we need to understand.
And understanding is the first step in real usefulness.