Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

THE MOTHER OF ALL WEEPIES; the African-American Underclass Is Brought to the Screen in a Painfully Emotive Tale of Redemption Full of Stunning Performances -- None More So Than Mo'Nique as a Terrifying, Self-Pitying Matriarch

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

THE MOTHER OF ALL WEEPIES; the African-American Underclass Is Brought to the Screen in a Painfully Emotive Tale of Redemption Full of Stunning Performances -- None More So Than Mo'Nique as a Terrifying, Self-Pitying Matriarch

Article excerpt

Byline: Andrew O'Hagan

FILM OF THE WEEK

PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL PUSH BY SAPPHIRE Cert 15, 110 mins ****

ONE of the big, invisible struggles in the world of film is between the ordinary experience of moviegoers and the instincts of film-makers. Those who control the industry are wedded to the idea that people want to pay money to escape from their lives, and that is often true. But sometimes new vitality in the cinema depends on the notion that real parts of life -- real characters, real language -- can rise up before the viewer and just sweep them away. They are knocked out by the novelty of seeing something deeply true, deeply recognisable, making it into the mythic reality of cinema for the first time. The terrain of Precious is not entirely new but it is new-ish, and people are already flocking to it.

Set in Harlem in the late Eighties, it is the story of Claireece "Precious" Jones (Gabourey Sidibe), a 16-year-old African-American girl who is living a life of cruelty and neglect that some people might think went out with the blues of Billie Holiday. All her conscious life she has been sexually abused by her father, and when the film opens she is pregnant by him for the second time. Her mother, May (played by Mo'Nique), is something beyond the cruel mother of legend: she is a torrent of verbal and emotional hurtfulness, punishing her daughter for the state of their lives. She is a woman addicted to welfare, cigarettes and TV. She blames Precious for stealing her man.

Precious is overweight, illiterate and imprisoned by her circumstances. She is suspended from school because of the second pregnancy and her only hope is a programme called Each One/ Teach One, led by a beautiful teacher called Ms Rain (Paula Patton), who sets out to teach her how to read and write, how to look after herself and do the best for her children. We are aware there are wonderful things in the girl, Precious: director Lee Daniels and adapter Geoffrey Fletcher supply us with dream sequences from Sapphire's novel, in which our sad heroine is a superstar dressed in furs, attending film premieres or appearing in slick Italian movies. But everything of her home life brings Precious back to earth with a scummy thump.

The film is driven, sometimes overdriven, with hope and redemption -- so much so that Oprah Winfrey came on as an executive producer after seeing it and realising how inspirational it was. But you would have to have a heart like a swinging brick not to feel moved by Precious's struggle for selfhood. Bad news piles upon bad news for the young girl, and when her second baby is born you realise that survival for both of them will depend on a lot more than Precious's growing inner strength. She will need every sort of help. But will she get it before her father's reign of terror and her mother's insanity conditions everything? …

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