Monday, November 9, 2009

Movie Review: "Precious"

Disclaimer: I am not a movie reviewer!! I have never attempted to do this before and I hope what I'm saying makes sense. I won't divulge any secrets or spoilers in this post (but plan to talk about more specifics in the next one!) and won't ruin any endings. But I do want to talk about watching this movie through my eyes. And I'm going to attempt to put into words, the things that I took from the movie, and things that I hope someone else would take from it.


"Precious" is not the feel good movie of the year.

After the movie, I felt like I had just had a really bad day at work. The kind of day that makes me painfully aware how real "secondary trauma" can be. It was a combination of sad, angry, and numb shell shock. Like you can't believe what you just saw happened - except that you can't deny that you experienced it.

But I would recommend the movie to absolutely anyone.

"Precious" confronts nearly every stereotype and "ism" out there - and then some. Racism, sexism, weightism, light skinned black vs. dark skinned black, teenage mothers, illiteracy, welfare, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and poverty.

Its title character, Clareece 'Precious' Jones is obese, dark skinned, and illiterate. She is 16, still in junior high, and can barely read at a second grade level. She is abused by literally every person in her life.

Her mother is shocking in her violence and rage - physically striking out at her daughter with no provocation and with horrific verbal assaults that will leave you shaking.

She is pregnant with her second child, both the result of molestation by her own father - under the jealous gaze of her mother.

At school, she is largely ignored or overlooked - except for when she is tormented because of her weight.

On the streets and in her neighborhood she is ridiculed and assaulted - reduced to less than a human being.

Precious is sometimes able to cope with this life by escaping into a fantasy world where she is famous, adored, and beautiful. But sometimes these fantasies are shockingly interrupted with flashbacks to abuse and terror - which makes them even more disturbing. It would be enough to break even the strongest of souls and these scenes are not for the faint of heart.

After her second pregnancy is confirmed, a decision is made by her principal and Precious is sent to an alternative school program called "Each One, Teach One" in order to help her successfully obtain her GED. The program is lead by a tenacious teacher and includes a handful of other misfit girls. Around that same time, Precious is coerced into counseling with a social worker at the welfare office who begins to uncover the many secrets in Precious' world.


Here is the first thing I want you to know about this movie - this is Precious' story and no body else. If someone tries to tell you that this is a story about a teacher or a social worker who helps a young girl realize her full potential, they are wrong. Not only are they wrong, they have done "Precious" (the movie and the character) a great disservice and fallen into a trap that too many people stumble into in the real world.

While those characters exist in this movie and play their part - they are not the focus. They are not the reason that Precious is able to overcome any of her circumstances. In fact, sometimes they unwittingly become one more barrier in Precious' path. They have good intentions, and certainly are ultimately a positive influence along Precious' path - but they also make the mistakes of those of who have never had to walk in Precious' shoes. For example, at one point the teacher tries to reassure Precious that her life is worthwhile - that she is loved. Precious responds,

"Don't lie to me!
Love ain't never done NOTHING for me!
Love BEAT me!
Love RAPED me!
Love made me feel WORTHLESS!
Love made me SICK!"

They are unconsciously judgemental and they make mistakes that are all too common by "helping professionals". They want what THEY think is best for Precious - they want her to have an education, to go to college, to break free of the generational cycles of abuse, poverty, and hopelessness. But those things are not always what Precious wants - or how she wants to go about getting it. This was a stark reminder to me - and a lesson I hope others can attempt to understand.

I was impressed by Gabourey Sidibe - she embodied the role with a stark, gritty, genuine performance. One detail I noticed was that, as Precious is narrating certain scenes (via voice overs) and talking about her feelings, her emotions are almost never expressed. For example, she may say "I really enjoy writing in my journal" or "I really like my math teacher" - but as the camera pans over her face, it is almost always the same expression. It is what some of us in the field would probably label as "flat affect". An expression that most would read as a combination of apathy and belligerence wrapped up in a vacant stare. It is an expression that I have seen enrage some adults. When a teenager looks at them that way, some adults see it as a challenge to elicit a more "respectful" response or attitude.

After seeing this movie, I hope that person would realize that Precious is not being obstinate or rude. She has been taught by life to be stoic, unaffected, and to show no weakness. Any reaction only puts her in more danger - both physically and emotionally. When an adult decides to "show them who's boss" or "put them in their place" - it only results in further humiliation and reinforces shame. It is also important to note that her mother demonstrates the exact same expression throughout the movie - how would we expect her child to know any different?

Speaking of Precious' mother (played by comedienne Monique) - she is perhaps the most astonishingly raw and unlikeable character ever portrayed in a movie. She is vile, unrelenting, and it is virtually impossible to find anything sympathetic about her. But, Moniqu never crosses the line and amazingly manages to avoid making her into a caricature or so one-dimensional that you could dismiss her as being too extreme to be believable.

The fact that they wait until nearly the very end of the film to allow her a moment to "explain herself", to both Precious and the audience, creates the perfect environment for a truly astounding revelation into the mind of an abusive parent. For anyone who has ever asked, "How could she let that happen to her child?" - this movie will give you an answer. In that moment, though the answers are not easily understood or readily acceptable, they are honest.

The movie is what I would call "shocking and bitterly true to life" - it never panders, does not resort to sappy ploys, and most importantly does not pretend that such situations can be wrapped up in a pretty bow at the end of 110 minutes.

But the movie does revolve around a very important character trait - hope. Despite the circumstances she was born into, the chronic abuse, the barriers and the setbacks - Precious does not give up.

In her own words,

"The other day I cried. And then I felt stupid. But you know what? F*ck that day. That day is gone. Today and Tomorrow is all that is important.

That's why God made tomorrow."


  1. sounds interesting, i want to go watch it now

  2. thank you for the review. i just blogged about a list of movies i've wanted to see and precious was number one and NOW i want to see it EVEN more to critique it myself! I wish I could have a discussion about the movie itself with you, however, as it turns out... Precious didn't play anywhere in a 2 hour radius from where I live. :(

  3. Thank you for this insightful review. I really want to see this.

  4. This movie will be so difficult to watch, but I was definitely intrigued by the previews. Thank you for your insights. Have you read the book?

  5. im pretty sure this movie is going to tear me into little tiny pieces -- the closest ill actually get to seeing my day-today as a social worker on the screen. thanks for blogging by the way. yours is the best social work blog ive found.

  6. have you read the book that the movie is based on? I did a couple months ago and am not sure if I could watch the movie after that. Have you read the book? If so, how do they compare?

  7. Tamar - No, I haven't read the book. I am going to try to find it at a library near me. If the book was a tough read - I'm sure the movie followed closely. :)

  8. Thank you for the review. I am hoping that my movie theatre gets it as well. Looks like Lions Gate (the production studio) is slowly releasing it to the public and starting with only the urban and certain demographic areas to start. I have heard that the national release date is sometime in December, kind of like how studios worked Slumdog Millionaire. No theatres here in CT have the movie. I will have to go to Manhattan or Harlem to see the movie if I want to see it before December.


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