It's not just the hype. Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire is a damn good movie. In adapting the novel for cinema, Geoffrey Fletcher manages to flesh out and add characters without compromising either the despair or the hope of Sapphire's work. Mario Grigorov's score, when we do hear it, has a sort of ethereal quality, reminding me of the work of Dominik Scherrer (PBS/ITV's Marple). Andrew Dunn's cinematography is appropriately gritty and "real".
And yet...Director Lee Daniels, though commendable as far as his work with actors goes, is a flashy director. And this, to me, is not a flashy story. Slow-mo, overlays, excessive dissolves...what's it all for? This movie works so well for the majority of the time, yet it is just distracting when Daniels adds his "flourishes". It's a shame, really, that what could have been a four-star film must instead be relegated to a mere three-and-one-half.
But yes, yes, we must talk about the actors. The ensemble of girls Precious meets at the alternative school is incredible. The easy chemistry between the six or seven girls we meet help get us (and Precious, of course) through the tougher parts of the film. The real stand-out among them is the talkative, jocular Joann, played by Xosha Roquemore. I know this girl. I went to school with this girl. When a character this small becomes this relatable, someone's doing something right. The actress? The writer? The director? The answer is yes. Paula Patton's Ms. Rain is almost saintly, the teacher trying to help these girls get by. She is as excellent as she is beautiful. Sherri Shepherd, Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz have small roles, with Kravitz's Nurse John clearly written in as an example of a good man (there's no such thing in the original novel). Shepherd is just fine, of course, and Carey reveals an acting ability that we never even suspected. So good on her.
And then there are the Joneses. Gabourey Sidibe is the titular Precious; Mo'Nique is her mother Mary. Ho. Ly. Crap. Sidibe will break your heart and warm your soul in this movie, and if you don't want to reach out and hug her -- not piteously, but to claim as a bestie for the restie -- then something must be wrong with you. Patton's character says at one point, "People do love you, Precious." And I heard several people in my theater claim their love for her under their breath. Mo'Nique, meanwhile, is the mom from Hell. I had chills. Her first monologue, raw and abusive, dropped my jaw. Her final monologue gave me goosebumps. Mark these two on your ballots, people; they're in.
A fine film, with commendable production values and an amazing ensemble. I just wish Daniels could have calmed down the style and trusted the substance.