Blindspot 2015: 40 Years of TIFF: Precious

It is time for the penultimate edition of this yearlong celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Toronto International Film Festival. This month, I will be looking at Lee Daniels’ Precious (Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire), which won the TIFF People’s Choice Award in 2009 and went on to be nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, with Precious winning the awards for Best Supporting Actress for Mo’Nique and Best Adapted Screenplay for Geoffrey Fletcher.

Precious centres around the titular protagonist of Claireece Precious Jones (Gabourey Sidibe), who lives in Harlem with her abusive mother (Mo’Nique). Precious was repeatedly sexually abused by her father and she is currently pregnant with her second child by him. Precious is sent to an alternative school, where Ms Blu Rain (Paula Patton) helps Precious learn to read and write and help turn her life around.

Usually when a film is announced as the winner of the TIFF People’s Choice Award, I am typically already familiar with the film. This was not the case with Precious, which I didn’t become aware of until after the film won the award. Even though the film went on to be nominated for six Academy Awards, I ended up skipping Precious during its initial theatrical run, since it didn’t seem to be the type of movie that appealed to me.

Well, here we are six years later and have finally seen Precious (Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire). One thing that is quite apparent from the film is that it has some very heavy subject matter. The titular protagonist of Claireece Precious Jones is both obese and illiterate and she is the repeated subject of sexual abuse by her father and verbal and physical abuse by her mother. If that wasn’t enough, there’s another revelation made late in the film, which just solidifies how awful a life Precious has.

While the plot of Precious is decent enough, this is really a film that is meant to see for the performances. Mo’Nique, best known for her comedic roles, was well deserving of her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her very intense and scary performance as Precious’ mother. Gabourey Sidibe is still probably best known for her role in this film, even though she does have a pretty solid career going on right now, including appearing on the TV series American Horror Story.  One role in the film that was a little bit weird in an “uncanny valley” sort of way was Mariah Carey as Precious’ social worker Ms. Weiss. Typically seen with a very glammed up appearance, Carey is completely without make-up in this role, though still completely recognizable, making her appearance in the film a little distracting. Of course, this is also a film that has Lenny Kravitz appearing as a male nurse.

I should probably also discuss the heavy use of fantasy in Precious. To avoid her terrible life, Precious often visualizes herself at a red carpet event or even sees herself in the mirror as a thin, blonde, white woman. It is an interesting element to say the least, even though it ultimately contributes very little to the plot of the film, other than to visualize Precious’ thought process.

Overall, I would say that Precious is a decent film, despite it featuring some very heavy drama. I’m not sure if I was wrong about skipping it in the theatres, but I am somewhat happy that I saw it now.

8 / 10 stars

Sean Kelly Author

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described über-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).