This year’s award season has a very different air about it, a wind of change, and it’s a refreshing and hopeful one at that. For over the past years the November to January period has bestowed more biopic/drama/literary adaptations than you can shake an Oscar at, not to mention big directors, big names and lot of cash-splashing.
Yet this year the seasonal offerings have been sparse, with the likely contenders more spread through the months of 2009 (meaning the academy will have to exercise their memories for once), and perhaps less easy to pick out; indeed the Oscar beast is usually an easily-spotted one. _Precious_: Based on the novel _Push_ by Sapphire, however, rockets into a UK winter release already boasting a truckload of universal praise and accolades, including the Sundance grand jury and audience awards and, regardless of how well it fairs here, it will assuredly win our undivided attention.
To discuss the subject matter to any great extent here would be to soften the hard-hitting realism that Lee Daniels tries to make the audience swallow whole. What we’re dealt is essentially a story of hope, clawing its way from what could be the lowest depths of misery and depravity.
Subject to violent and sexual abuse from both her mother and father, Claireece Precious Jones, portrayed by the exceptional Gabourey Sidibe, poorly-educated and knowing little of happiness, has become numbed so much to her devastating circumstances that her acceptance has led to a life that is both fatigued and void of aspiration, only savouring her daydreams of celebrity stardom. Yet her acute skill with maths and an opportunity for further education offer her an escape rope from her situation, her confrontations with dependency, incest, racism and parenting consistently holding her down all the while. Her only lifeline happens to be the hand of a compassionate teacher.
It’s a sort of Matilda-style set-up, but infinitely more harrowing and real, making no attempt at diluting its potent punch, and as Neill Blomkamp’s _District 9_, appearing last year, seems aimed to provoke an awareness of racial segregation in the Johannesburg apartheid, Precious shows people a gritty realism of social and parental evils which exist in America today, however much we try and avoid it.
The performances, emotionally stellar, almost drive Precious alone. Many of the the film’s confrontational scenes are filled with such tension and realism, accentuated by the cast’s ability to engage so acutely with their characters, that we want to look away, but daren’t. As a real break-in role for Sidibe, her sense of suppressed suffering is not so much melancholy as it is shocking; Daniels wants the audience to know how real this situation is, and makes no effort to retreat from meeting it head-on. An unlikely appearance by Mariah Carey, subtly-performed as bland social worker Miss Weiss, has also stirred an agreeable amount of commendation as well, if only for being so unexpected.
Perhaps most memorable though is Precious’s mother, played by Mo’Nique (better known as comedian)both abominably vile and cruel, yet for many, her powerfully moving final monologue may be the very moment that tips this film into brilliance. The audacity of _Precious_ is its fearless courage. It’s a message of hope told through gritted teeth of unrelenting yet uncertain optimism.
We can’t so much cheer _Precious_ on in her attempt to escape her circumstances as we can only hope, and as such we acceptably forfeit a happy ending for a mere forecast of perseverance. And that makes for a unique viewing experience.