In 1987, obese, illiterate, 16-year-old Claireece Precious Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) lives in the New York City ghetto of Harlem with her dysfunctional and abusive mother, Mary (Mo’Nique). She has been raped by her father, Carl (Rodney Jackson), resulting in two pregnancies. She suffers long-term physical and mental abuse from her unemployed mother. The family resides in a Section 8 tenement and survives on welfare.
Her first child, known as Mongo, which is short for Mongoloid, has Down syndrome and is being cared for by Precious’ grandmother, though Mary forces the family to pretend Mongo lives with her and Precious so she can receive extra money from the government. Following the discovery of Precious’ second pregnancy, she is taken out of school.
Her high school principal arranges to have her attend an alternative school, which she hopes can help Precious change her life’s direction. Precious finds a way out of her traumatic daily existence through imagination and fantasy. In her mind, there is another world where she is loved and appreciated.
What’s really amazing in this film is the excellence of the acting. You’ve likely heard time and time again how Mariah Carey doesn’t wear makeup and looks haggard and old, and you’ve probably heard about Monique’s superb turn as Precious’ mother. What can’t be conveyed without you actually watching the movie is what all that means. To me, it meant witnessing moments when an actor found ways to manipulate his/her body language and expressions to create a character in one movement.
Precious, for example, is both a burdened, pitiful human being whose scrunched-up face and blank expression tell the audience that she is very nearly spiritually dead. Then, in an instant, she begins to daydream, and her body, her expression, her entire carriage is transformed. She radiates happiness and sensuality, a sense of being totally alive and joy-filled. It’s more than the clothing and makeup. It’s everything that shows up on her face, in the way she moves, in the lifting of her brow so that she no longer looks closed off to life. Incredible.
Monique is also excellent, from the bland expression of a couch potato who is frozen before the tube to the rage of a woman who feels betrayed by the very daughter she has betrayed so often. Awesome. There is a scene where she is trying to convince someone that she loves Precious, and she earnestly tries to prove that she has strongly positive and loving memories of her daughter, only to find that she can’t even get the dates in the memory right, that she can’t get something as important as a milestone date right.
Director: Lee Daniels
Year of Release: 2009
Character to watch: Gabourey Sidibe as Precious.
Journal your answers to the following questions after you watch the movie.
- How does this particular character’s journey compare with yours?
- Did the character develop certain characteristics during the movie that you have or that you would like to have? If so, what are those characteristics?
- What obstacles did this character face? What was his or her biggest challenge?
- What would you have done differently if you had been in the same position as the character?
- Is this character the type of person you would be friends with? Why or why not?