EDITOR’S NOTE: This review was originally published as part of indieWIRE’s coverage of the Sundance Film Festival.
“Precious: Based on the novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” is a movie of many textures, each one illuminating the emotionally gripping narrative at its core. Lee Daniels directs with bold strokes that could go wrong at any moment, but generally serve to illuminate a troubled life and the justified desire to escape it. The story of a troubled Harlem teen named Precious (Gabourey Sidibe) impregnated by her absent father, “Precious” progresses with a steadily engaging series of starts and stops in the frayed world of its talented star. While fending off her dysfunctional mother (Monique, in a stunningly psychotic turn), Precious gradually learns to surpass her aimless fantasies and come to grips with the troubles at hand. Using lavishly photographed sequences, Daniels contrasts Precious’s daily woes with the happier existence inside her head, but these moments gradually give way to the protagonist’s fulfillment of her actual goals.
Moved to an alternative school to meet her special needs, Precious learns from more caring adults (including Mariah Carey as a trenchant social worker) about her obvious potential to mature. A spunky character with an increasing ability to editorialize about her new environment (“they talk like TV channels I don’t watch,” she says of her newfound mentors), Precious makes the ideal heroine of modern times. “Precious” does not function exclusively as a story of race, but as a universal depiction of real world struggle. The only question is whether distributors can push themselves to get it out there.