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Struggling to Survive

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

When a film covers serious and disturbing topics, it’s sometimes difficult to separate the subject matter from the movie. Precious is filled with heavy, depressing material, and while you’ll sympathize with the story of an abused adolescent girl attempting to escape her demons, the film itself is only a mild victory.

This is one of those films where you’ll want to cover your eyes, not from suspense or blood and guts, but from how utterly realistic it all feels. Clarice “Precious” Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) is a 17-year-old girl living with her deadbeat, abusive mother Mary (Mo’Nique). Obese and illiterate, she fantasizes of a life of happiness, especially when being brutally raped by her mother’s boyfriend, her own father. After she’s asked to leave school for become pregnant with her second child from him, she finds the strength to attend an alternative school, Each One Teach One.

Between constant physical and psychological abuse from her mother, Precious finds solace at her new school with her teacher Blue Rain (Paula Patton) and classmates. But as much as she wants to learn and to escape the life she was born into, she finds a new wall to climb at every turn. Despite the insistence of her mother that she’s useless, she finds the strength in her new surroundings, and through Ms. Rain, to continue on.

It really is a difficult story to watch unfold, specifically the scenes between Mary and Precious. Mo’Nique is eerily convincing as Mary, a woman perpetually glued to the TV and insisting that Precious not only cook all her meals and collect her welfare checks, but also be on the receiving end of the aforementioned constant brutality. Gabourey Sidibe also portrays Precious with subtle emotion and depth. These two do a really great job of anchoring a film that although touching, has some detracting flaws.

Precious is not made poorly, but there is a lack of cohesive vision. Too often, it goes off into visual cues that distract from the flow of the film, as do some of director Lee Daniels’ editing choices. Large parts of Precious’ story feel skipped over, while others are dwelled upon at length. In a film that discusses the practicalities and realities of her plight, it feels as if her struggling to get from point A to B is more an emotional struggle than a realistic one.

While Lee Daniels does a commendable job of keeping Precious away from melodramatic overtones, he ends up with a film that commands attention but feels incomplete.