Precious

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Posted November 19, 2009 in Film

Lee Daniels isn’t subtle. In his loony debut film Shadowboxer, he established gangster Stephen Dorff’s wealth by cutting repeatedly to a shot of zebras in his front lawn. But wildly—and seemingly implausibly—his heavy-handedness works in Precious. After all, no one else in this Harlem drama cries, screams or smiles for the abused teen. She’s not even willing to do it for herself. 300-lb Precious (Gabourey Sidibe) uses her blunt face and weight as a wall. We get the sense she’s padded herself for protection, against her mother (Mo’Nique) mostly, but also the boys on the block and the father who rapes her whenever he bothers to come home. Mom piles on. When Mo’Nique finds excuses to force-feed her daughter, we suspect it’s really her misdirected scheme to make her less of a sexual threat. Mo’Nique and Sidibe are astounding and you can feel Daniels struggling to trust his mighty goddesses to carry the film. (He wedges in shots of boiling pigs feet to make sure we’re queasy.) As Ms. Rain, the tutor who encourages Precious to reach out through writing, Paula Patton is one Coolio track away from playing Michelle Pfeiffer. But the diva in Mariah Carey gets her small turn as an overburdened social worker note perfect: she cares, but she’s got other priorities. The sheltered suburban girl in me wants to say this shattering film needs us to feel, not learn. It leaves you reaching for a hankie, not a volunteer form. And then this week, like many weeks, the news tells us of 5-year-old Shaniya Davis, sold by her mom and killed by her buyer. And a film that feels like melodrama stabs us with its truth. And it hurts.

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