Harlem. Claireece Precious Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) is a teenage girl who is morbidly obese, illiterate and pregnant for the second time by her own father. She lives at home with her emotionally abusive mother Mary (Mo'Nique). However, when Precious is invited to transfer to an alternative school, she begins to rebuild her life.
Precious is, as the titles say, based on a young-adult novel, Push, by Sapphire. I haven't read the novel, but by all accounts the film is toned down from it. (And if you're surprised at incestuous sexual abuse featuring in a novel aimed at teenagers, you clearly don't read much contemporary young-adult fiction.) Given this subject matter – and there's more to come I haven't mentioned above – it would be very easy to make a film that's relentlessly sentimental, or relentlessly depressing, or both. While the film certainly puts you through the wringer at times, it's a tribute to the skill of the adaptation by Geoffrey Fletcher, and that of the direction by Lee Daniels that it doesn't become unbearable to watch. Part of the way it does this is to enter Precious's fantasy world at the same time she does, as a coping mechanism to her father's assaults.
Another plus is the cast, the result of some unusual but effective choices. Mo'Nique has had a lengthy acting career, but she is probably best known as a talk show host. Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz are better known for their musical activities. Carey gives possibly the most surprising performance in the film – in a wig and intentionally deglamourised as Precious's therapist Ms Weiss, she's barely recognisable. On this form, perhaps people can finally forgive her that notorious bomb from 2001, Glitter. But the film belongs to first-time actor Gabourey Sidibe in a role that can't have been easy to cast, but without which the film would have fallen apart. Mo'Nique won an Oscar for her performance, as did Geoffrey Fletcher for the screenplay.
Some critics, including some black ones, have accused Precious of racism. I'm not so sure, though as I'm neither black nor from Harlem, I would have to take authenticity on trust given that the original writer, the screenwriter and the director, not to mention most of the principal cast, are all black. And there's no doubt that the appalling things inflicted on Precious during the course of this film are certainly not unique to the black community, nor does this film suggest that they are.
Precious can be a tough watch – and I'd imagine incest survivors particularly would find it hits particularly close to home – but it's one worth sticking with. It is moving without being unduly sentimental, and it ends on a hopeful note.
Precious is released by Icon on a dual-layered disc encoded for Region 2 only. There is also a Blu-ray edition. The DVD begins with trailers for Nowhere Boy and A Single Man.
The film is transferred to DVD in the correct ratio of 1.85:1 and anamorphically enhanced. Precious was shot on 35mm film, and DP Andrew Dunn shows particularly sensitivity to the light: softer, and orange-toned in the home sequences, a harder, flatter light in the therapy scenes. I didn't see this film in the cinema, but I'm sure this reflects Daniels's and Dunn's intentions.
Three soundtracks are available – Dolby Surround and 5.1 versions in Dolby Digital and DTS. There isn't much to choose between the latter two, though the former is mixed slightly the louder. The film is dialogue-driven for the most part, with the surrounds used for music and ambience in the main. Subtitles are available for the hard of hearing.
Lee Daniels is clearly proud of this film, as he tells us in his commentary – he ends by saying it changed his life. This is a fairly standard commentary, leading us through the film's making, and being appreciative of his collaborators' contributions. He also tells us that some of the more harrowing sequences were frequently interrupted by laughter during the shoot, perhaps as a defence mechanism.
Most of the rest of the extras are featurettes. “A Precious Ensemble” (18:32) concentrates on the casting, particularly that of Gabourey Sidibe. Mariah Carey turns up as her usual glamourous self, which shows how different she looks onscreen. “From Push to Precious” (15:21) details how Sapphire, then best known as a poet, wrote the novel. It had had attention from Hollywood before now, but Sapphire had turned down offers up to this point, preferring the book to have its own life before it became a film. Some of this material is duplicated in “A Conversation with Lee Daniels and Sapphire” (8:27). “Oprah & Tyler: A Project of Passion” (9:32) details how executive producers Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry came on board to support the film and bring the film to their audience's attention. (Perry had some qualms about the profanity, given that much of his constituency are churchgoers.)
The remaining extras begin with a harrowing deleted scene “The Incest Survivor Meeting” (1:45). Finally there is a collection of “Reflections and PSAs [Public Service Announcements] with “Gabby, Lee and Paula” (5:12), an item made up of many brief chapters and ending with Gabourey Sidibe's screen test.