The Sundance and Toronto film festivals’ top prizewinner, based on the novel Push by Sapphire, arrives in the UK with a big reputation which is entirely justified. The opening quote from Ken Keynes Jr states ‘Everything is a gift of the universe’, and Lee Daniels (best known for producing Oscar winner Monster’s Ball and directing Helen Mirren as an assassin in Shadowboxer) sets about proving that this statement even applies to an abused black, overweight and uneducated single mother with nothing but pain to live for. The central turn from Gabourey ‘Gabby’ Sidibe as the titular protagonist is mesmerising and endearing. Despite being made pregnant for the second time by her own father, Gabby fantasises about fame and fortune. Daniels shows her fantasies of being a singer and walking red carpets in dream sequences (the soundtrack that accompanies these moments is fantastic) that provide a welcome relief from a life that resembles a Jackson Pollock painting.
Set in Harlem in 1987, it would be odd if race was not a factor, and Daniels touches upon this without being heavy-handed as Precious looks into a mirror and in the reflection sees a better-looking, lighter girl smiling back. The tone, including a gregarious voiceover from Precious, ensures that the story never descends into movie-of-the-week melodrama. The supporting cast, including musicians Lenny Kravitz and a surprising and almost unrecognisable turn from Mariah Carey, are fantastic and Special mention must go to Mo’Nique who plays Precious’ mother – her final scene is an acting masterclass that will bring a tear to even the most cold-hearted spectator. Even the aesthetic is great, as stylistically Daniels borrows oranges and blues that convey a sense of emotional hardship found in jazz or blues that and reminiscent of Wong Kar Wai circa In the Mood For Love. Unexpected and moving, Precious is a gem from the projects.
General release from Fri 29 Jan