| This low budget independent film was shot in only five weeks and rose from obscurity after winning three awards at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival including the grand jury prize and audience award in the U.S. dramatic competition. It followed that up with an appearance at the Cannes Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival, where it again captured the audience award. It built momentum and word-of-mouth support around the world, making stops at 14 prestigious festivals including New York, Vancouver, Chicago, Tokyo, London and Denver.
The hype machine went into overdrive when Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry jumped on the bandwagon as executive producers. It has triggered a fanatic response and off the charts per-screen average attendance figures. The amazing background of this climb from anonymity to the summit of popularity is overwhelming and far more interesting than the film itself.
The movie takes place in 1987 Harlem. It deals with the harsh reality of ghetto squalor. It is an exploitive horror story that piles on the misery, cruelty, sadness and abuse of both the mental and physical variety.
The central character is an obese, illiterate African-American teenager named Claireece “Precious” Jones (Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe). She lives with her cruel and abusive mother Mary (Mo’Nique). Waiting hand and foot on this devilish matriarchal monster, she is treated like a domestic slave.
Precious is pregnant for the second time by an absent father. Her first child has Down syndrome and lives with her grandmother. Her second pregnancy gets her thrown out of public school. This actually becomes a lucky break and a turning point in her life.
The school principal directs Precious to an alternative school, Each One/Teach One. She comes under the wings of Miss Blu Rain (Paula Patton from “Déjà Vu” and “Hitch”), an understanding and compassionate teacher. Precious learns to read and write.
A silver lining and a glimmer of hope appear on the horizon at the conclusion.
It is hard to believe people live like this in America. The movie throws in your face all the warts of a failed system. It centers on one family tree in a forest of urban poverty. It cries out for reform in public education, welfare and child protection. It is uncomfortable to sit through. You will want to turn away since some scenes will make you sick to your stomach.
The most abhorrent segment involves Precious bringing home her newborn son to meet mom. This ugly encounter becomes the last straw when a television set is hurled down a flight of stairs nearly striking Precious and her baby.
This manipulative string-pulling drama unflinchingly deals with tough-to-swallow central themes of incest, rape, teenage pregnancy, obesity, poverty, welfare, illiteracy, AIDS, child abuse and lesbianism.
The movie feels almost like a documentary. There are blackouts between scenes. The main character adds a voiceover narration of her thoughts and feelings. Her daydreams and fantasy world are very colorful.
The acting is stupendous and rises above the material. An almost unrecognizable Mariah Carey appears in a supporting role as a welfare counselor. Sidibe’s speech pattern while in character is sometimes difficult to understand. She alternates between mumbling and slurring her words.
You can’t help but feel compassion for this dumb and innocent human being. The uneven pacing causes things to drag and you may find yourself checking your watch since the 109- minute running time seems much longer.
The movie was directed by Lee Daniels (a producer of “Monster’s Ball”) and is based on the novel “Push” by Sapphire. Now playing in Johnson County exclusively at AMC Town Center 20 and the Leawood.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"