As a former UPS Store employee, the holidays can't really stress me out anymore.
Besides, what's the big deal? All you have to do is eat your ownweight in turkey and candy, and then when you're old enough to seeover the table, your parents let you drink yourself into a hospital.There's no better embodiment of Christmas cheer than an IV full ofmorphine.
Holiday movies, on the other hand, are junk. Quick, name three goodones. Wait, you can't, because Bad Santa only has two differentcuts. So while it might seem perverse to unleash Precious, adepressing tale of abuse and hard knocks, right before Christmas, Isay that's nothing compared to the punishment already inflicted by thelast billion years of It's a Wonderful Life and A ChristmasStory reruns.
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Gabourey Sidibe's life isn't going so well. At age 16, she's still injunior high. Her mother Mo'Nique is a wrathful, hurtful, abusivewoman. Sidibe's father, who's also the father of her first child, hasimpregnated her again, causing her to be transferred from her publicschool into an alternative program.
Though shy, overweight and traumatized, Sidibe begins to emerge inteacher Paula Patton's small classroom. If she can deal with hermother and her own children, she may have a shot at a real education.
Filled with beatings, rape, verbal abuse, and babies casually lobbedonto couches, Precious is the feel-good holiday movie of theyear. Or maybe that's just a false memory from the happy fantasyland that Iconstructed for myself after nearly two hours of unrelentinglygrimness.
Usually with stuff like this you hit a point where you throw up yourmental hands and say "OK, I get it, your life sucks and I should geta frowny clown mouth tattooed over my lips so no one will ever see mesmile again." It's hard to tell a harsh, rough story withoutexhausting the audience's sympathy, or worse yet, overplaying thehorror until we feel as though the characters aren't the only ones beingabused.
Director Lee Daniels and first-time screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcherdodge both those bullets. Despite the bleak survivalism of Sidibe'slate-'80s Harlem existence, Precious never clubs you over thehead with the Frying Pan of Despair. This isn't a feature-length pityparty. Laid out with a deliberate pace (remember, that's critic-speakfor "slow, but in a good way"), steeped in hard details of citypoverty, her world's too real to dismiss.
It helps that the monotony of trauma is broken up with blips ofSidibe's own escapist fantasies — though several of these, includingher wish to be a skinny white girl — actually make it sadder. Herclassmates liven it up with humor and personality, busting beyondclassroom stereotypes despite limited screen time.
Ultimately the performances make Precious work.Sidibe is pretty great, but she doesn't have to say much. It'sMo'Nique who has to spend the whole film yelling, cussing andslinging pans around. How she does and still comes off as aflesh-and-blood woman instead of a melodramatic cartoonmustache-twirling hell-demon is as mysterious as why the aliens builtthe White House.
If Precious has a weakness, it's that it's a little aimless,maybe a little too close to the repetitive rhythm — for better orworse — of real life. Also like real life, the ending's a bit of aproblem. Until then, there's a whole lot of new talent on display.