Triumph over adversity
Characters that rise above their circumstances and triumph over extreme adversity are the basis of some of the best cinematic experiences I can recall. Precious is a perfect example. I wonder whether director Lee Daniels nails the appeal of such characters with this comment: “We all think we’re not special enough. No matter how much we try and get those self-help books and pray and try and find the answer. I don’t think you’re human if you don’t find a little bit of Precious in you.”
It’s visually intoxicating
There is something quite sublime about the visual style of Precious, although it would be more accurate to use the plural because each of the film’s three distinct worlds has its own very different style. Up to when she has her second baby, Precious (Gabourey Sidibe) lives in an apartment with her mother (Mo’Nique). The scenes that occur there are old-world painterly with dark shadows, plenty of texture and warm colours, although there’s nothing warm about the way the meanest mum in film history treats Precious. At the worst moments of the real-life nightmares occurring within these walls, fantasy is the escape route. Precious pictures herself in glamour mode – pirouetting on stage for adoring fans or with a handsome young admirer nuzzling her neck on a red carpet – and the lighting has all the flamboyance she deserves. When Precious is out in the world, slowly finding her feet with her new friends and gaining confidence as she is treated decently by adults, there is plenty of visual boldness too. The camera shudders a little as it captures discomfort, passing that unease on to us, or it suddenly swings from one character to another, just as our eyes would. The editing also adds to the artistry: unrelated images are cut together to create a feeling or superimposed over each other to indicate movement without us having to wait. Cinematographer Andrew Dunn and editor Joe Klotz have both worked with Daniels on subsequent films.
Go inside the head of Precious
While the fantasy sequences beautifully show Precious’ big dreams and aspirations, it is being privy to the ‘silent’ conversations going on in her head that really allow us to get to know her, appreciate her resilience and want the very best for her. “The longest journey starts with a single step,” she repeats to herself, quoting her wonderful teacher Blue Rain (Paula Patton). “Whatever the fuck that’s supposed to mean,” she adds. Her voiceover both beautifully illustrates character and is a spot-on illustration of how the mind works – well, mine anyway. Precious often laughs at herself and we love her for it.
The wonderful Gabourey Sidibe
This young actress inhabits the role of Precious. She grew up in Harlem, where the film is set, and has said she’s felt discrimination because of her size and the darkness of her skin. Quoting Daniels again: “It’s completely an act: her and I carving out a character. She’s so intelligent, far more intelligent that I am. She has taught me so much about life and what it’s like to be in this girl’s shoes.”
Friday 7 May, 10:30pm on NITV / No catch-up at SBS On Demand
Director: Lee Daniels
Starring: Gabourey Sidibe, Mo'Nique, Paula Patton, Lenny Kravitz, Bill Sage