On paper, the redemptive arc in Lee Daniels’ adap of Sapphire’s novel makes its Oscar wins seem almost as much a formality as Oprah Winfrey’s producer credit.
Deprived and abused black girl Claireece ‘Precious’ Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) overcomes relentless woes aided by various alt-educators and social workers. Surprises? Only that Michelle Pfeiffer doesn’t star.
But daring casting and nuanced direction buffet expectation. Daniels pulls no punches, Precious’ home life resembling something out of Se7en’s infernal visions. Smartly, though, he counterbalances her troubles with flashes of joy and resistance. Precious’ inner life rings true and an earthy ensemble cast turn classroom sequences into scenes more vivid than the “kids from Fame” trap they skirt.
The leads rule the school, though. Eyes squeezed tight by bunched-up flab and self worth crushed, Sidibe makes Precious seem like the most extreme lost cause while somehow suggesting hidden reserves of resilience. Mo’Nique, meanwhile, justifies her Oscar win by bringing subtleties to Precious’ monstrous mum, whose final stab at sympathy is at once devastating and grotesquely misplaced.
Even potential misfires hit home. Paula Patton’s slinky teacher steps out from the Dangerous Minds school of urban redeemers, but her saviour role isn’t over baked. Ditto Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz, who deliver with sure-toned understatement.
Hold your cynicism: by making its risks swing, Precious earns its emotional wallop.
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