2009 // USA // Lee Daniels // December 1, 2009 // Theatrical Print (St. Louis Cinemas Moolah Theater)
B- - It's tempting to dismiss Lee Daniels' Precious as a miserablist ordeal that puts its protagonist—the obese, illiterate teenage mother whose name serves as the title—through the proverbial wringer in order to elicit vague guilt and sanctimonious tongue-clucking from its audience. The film leans heavily on the conventions of ghetto melodrama, but Precious is both too slight and too poetic to permit hasty categorization. There's a tinge of knowing fatalism to the film's despair, no doubt derived in part from the real-life experiences woven into Sapphire's original novel. Daniels flits between a dizzying array of social and cultural issues, but Precious retains an unsettled, even impressionistic tone that prevents it from descending into preachiness. The film's formalist flourishes—such as Precious' (Gabourey Sidibe's) gauzy fantasies of fame and fortune, or the unexpected use of gospel and R&B to add a fresh twist to familiar narrative situations—mute the asphalt horror and lend credence to the film's fuzzy, humanistic message. While it's Sidibe that provides the film with its restless, wounded mood, it's hard to deny that, Oscar-bait or not, there's something mesmerizing about sassy comedian Mo'Nique portraying one the most blisteringly vile mothers since Shelley Winters in A Patch of Blue.