Dir Lee Daniels US (PG15)
A litany of horrors befall Harlem teenager Clareece ‘Precious’ Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) – illiteracy, rape, domestic abuse, Mariah Carey. The film’s centre is a fully lived-in performance by newcomer Sidibe, who will hopefully go on to better things and not be cast aside, Slumdog-style, in the post-awards season. The actor holds her own with such scene-stealers as Mo’Nique – dangling her cigarettes with Oscar-baiting malevolence as Precious’s mum, Mary – and navigates the neorealism-lite trappings of the film with brazen, arresting confidence.
Precious’s best scenes take place in a literacy class headed by a tough-love educator (Paula Patton). It’s here that Precious finds the means to express herself in ways reminiscent of Celie, the uneducated heroine of Alice Walker’s The Colour Purple. Director Daniels seems to be aping Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Purple in the moment when the camera circles Precious while video images of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, et al are projected around her. The meaning is the same – history floods the consciousness of both Celie and Precious and powerfully widens their world view – but Daniels’s methods are cruder. In another instance, he emphasises the revulsion of incest by cutting to a pan of sizzling eggs. Even the worst behaviours, he appears to be saying, have to go over easy.