Precious (2009)

Rated R. Our ratings: V- 7; L- 8; S-6 Running time: 1 hour 49 min.

Since there will never cease to be some in need on the
earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the
poor and needy neighbor in your land.’
Deuteronomy 15:11

For the needy shall not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the poor perish for ever.
Psalm 9:18 It (love) bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” I Cor. 13:7

Precious sits uneasily beside her mother Mary and her son Little Mongo.
2009 Lionsgate Films

Although it is based on a novel (Push by the writer with the single name of Sapphire), director Lee Daniels and writer Geoffrey Fletcher’s film has the ring of truth. What a refreshing story of the triumph of loving nurture over the oppressive background of poverty and abuse, especially in that the heroine is not a sleek svelte teenager but a 330 pound African American girl.

Despite her middle name, Claireece Precious Jones is anything but that to her foul-mouthed, abusive mother Mary. The latter is the epitome of the stereotypical welfare mother, never lifting a finger to even care for their apartment or child while glued to her TV set. As soon as the girl returns home from school her mother demeans her and demands to be fed and pampered. She never says a word of thanks or support to the brow-beaten daughter’ instead a steady stream of invectives and demeaning insults spew forth from her mouth, often followed by a thrown frying pan or dish. The mother is so stingy with her money that in order to eat Precious steals fried chicken from a restaurant. Mary calls the first child of Precious “Little Mongo” for obvious reasons, valuing him only because he makes them eligible for a welfare check.

Continually raped by Mary’s common-law husband, Precious second pregnancy turns out to be providential, the school authorities no longer being able to ignore her. The compassionate principal sends the girl to an alternative school called “Each One Help One,” where a caring teacher Mary Blu Rain and social worker Ms. Weiss (Mariah Carey) offer the kind of nurture necessary for the oppressed girl to gain a measure of self-esteem.

A useful device is the narration provided by Precious herself. Though barely literate, her comments reveal the deep suffering as well as lively imagination of the overlooked 16 year-old. ” Sometimes I wish I was not alive,” she says at one point. “But I don’t know how to die. Ain’ no plug to pull out. ‘N no matter how bad I feel my heart don’t stop beating and my eyes open in the morning.” It’s a steep mountain of neglect and emotional scars that the girl must overcome, but her African American teacher Miss rain (and Italian social worker Mrs. Weiss do indeed open their hands so that the power of healing love can restore her sense of worth.

It should not be surprising that director Lee Daniels has offered us such a deeply moving film, as he also directed two other insightful and moving films about society’s outsiders, Monster’s Ball and The Woodsman. He elicits memorable performances from his talented cast—relative newcomer Gabourey Sidibe as the lead, Paula Patton as the caring teacher with the unusual name of Blu Rain; Mariah Carey as wise social worker Mrs. Weiss, and above all that of the actress up to now known mainly for her comedic talents Mo’Nique (there should be Oscar talk about her incredible performance!). Mary’s foul language might be offsetting to some viewers, but this is a story all of us who have been so fortunate to have been raised in loving homes need to see. It can be a tough, cruel world out there, but love still can work miracles.

For Reflection/Discussion

1. List the ways in which Precious is an outsider. Compare her outsider status with that of The Woodsman’s Walter, the convicted and freed child molester so ably played by Kevin Bacon. (See the review/guide for this excellent film in the Winter 2005 issue of VP, pp. 36-37.

2. The moments of abuse are graphically depicted: what about moments of grace? Here is dialogue from two scenes.

a. In the social worker’s office: Precious: “You don’t even like me.” Mrs. Weiss: Have we not been in this room together for like, a year Discussing your life?

Precious : “Does that mean we like each other because we discussing my life?” Mrs. Weiss: [Smiling] “Well, I can’t speak for you. I can only speak for me, and I like you. I do.” b.Precious: [Crying hysterically] Nobody loves me!

Ms. Rain: People do love you, Precious.

Precious: Don’t lie to me! Love ain’t done nothing for me! Love beat me down! Made me feel worthless!

Ms. Rain: [Tears begin falling from her eyes] “But your baby loves you. I love you!” 4. Precious slaps the girl who insulted her in class: how is this usually regardedantisocial act a step forward for her? How did the audience (and you) react later on when Precious stood up to her mother?

5. How do you see God working through Ms. Rain and Mrs. Weiss? Through the receptionist and the male nurse at the hospital?