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Feature


16-year-old Claireece ‘Precious’ Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) is 16 years old, obese, struggling illiterately through middle school, pregnant with her second child (from her own father), and black in 1987 America. Precious lives in Harlem with her nearly psychotic mother, Mary (Mo'Nique), who physically, mentally and sexually abuses her daughter on a regular basis, leaving her mentally damaged almost beyond repair. The second pregnancy gets Precious ejected from school, but she’s given a second chance in the form of an alternative school, where she meets Miss Blu Rain (Paula Patton), and a roomful of new friends with similar learning problems. Things start looking up, and some of the chips are brushed from Precious’ ample shoulders.

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
I was immediately weary of Precious mostly because Tyler Perry and Oprah’s names were attached as 'presenters'. The trailers and plot synopsis promised hours of piling depressing baggage on the title character, and there’s a fine line between gritty, realistic drama, and trudges through exploitative pity. The first thirty minutes of the film deliver on the promise, and my attention began to wane with numbness. Fortunately the film is mostly frontloaded with the really brutal stuff, and the story actually progresses once Precious gets into her alternative school environment. There’s still plenty of melodramatic pain, more than enough to make me assume that the baby was going to burst into flames at any moment (not to mention that final nail in Precious’ shit sandwich), but the story feels more realistic, and balances the uplifting elements pretty effectively, and ‘presenter’ Tyler Perry’s love of sappy lessons learned is mostly a non-issue. Precious doesn’t earn its screenplay Oscar, in my opinion, but Daniels really does earn a nomination among Tarantino, Cameron and Bigelow for his imaginative direction.

Precious at times remind me of Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, in both terms of spiraling, depressing themes, solid performances, and flashy filmmaking. Requiem doesn’t feature the threateningly daft feel good moments, and is generally more over-the-top, but the comparisons are still easy to make. I forgive both films for being consistently and ridiculously intense because they’re so aesthetically intriguing. Precious director Lee Daniels doesn’t quite take things to the same shattering degree Aronofsky does, but breaks with his uber-verite style occasionally to plunge into Precious’ dream world. This world is either a nightmarish montage state (very much like Aronofsky’s work on Requiem), or a happy modern music video world (which doesn’t really make sense considering the fact that the film takes place in the ‘80s). The real world does occasionally break into a slow motion, bright lit state, but Daniels mostly sticks to an uncompromising hyper-reality. So far as the acting is concerned the overall film is most notable for its restraint. Excepting Mo’Nique’s brutal portrayal of Precious’ evil mother, the cast, which is packed with ‘stunt’ players (Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz), keep their heads down, and their performances touchingly natural.

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

Video


Precious is a visual feast, and though the print is quite grainy at times the film is certainly worth seeing in a 1080p format. Colour and contrast are important and defining visual elements. The whole of the print features very high contrast, but different sets feature different colour themes. Precious’ home is tinged with oranges in an almost monochromatic manner (likely to equate a hell like atmosphere), outdoor New York is overcast and blue with occasional poppy warm elements, and the alternative school is generally more natural, with rich green backgrounds. On standard definition DVD Precious’ orange scarf and pink backpack are rife with compression noise, and the harsh blacks are plagued by edge enhancement. Daniels and his DP Andrew Dunn utilize a lot of shallow focus throughout all the visual themes, so the sharpest details aren’t particularly deep, but the foreground information is uncompromisingly sharp, detailing every imperfection on every actor’s face. The utter blackness and utter whiteness also brutalize the details a bit, but both ends of the spectrum are clean and rich.

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

Audio


Precious comes fitted with yet another effective Lionsgate DTS-HD Master Audio track. The film is crawling with subjective abstract sound design, including both highlighted natural outdoor sounds, and sharpened and quick cut focal sounds, like the frying of food, or the scratching of pencil to paper. The outdoor scenes feature more directional and rear channel work (trains, cars, wind), while the more surreal sounds are impressive from a clarity standpoint. Music plays a big role in the film’s overwhelming style, often representing Precious’ release from her pain, or at least the audiences’ release. The music is the most consistently loud and immersive element, usually focused in the front channels, but occasionally working its way back into the rears for highlight and echo purposes. Excepting some of the more hyperactive sound effects, the LFE gets the best workout through these musical moments. The film’s improvisational, cinema verite style does occasionally leads to minor distortion in the centered dialogue track.

Extras


The extras start with director Lee Daniels’ solo commentary track. Daniels isn’t a word a minute type (he apologizes early in the track for a lack of space filling), but he’s good at pointing out bits the audience may have overlooked, giving us a solid image of the behind the scenes process, and discussing the differences between the movie and Sapphire’s book. It’s good to know that the behind the scenes process was generally pretty funny, and the occasional notice of visual inspiration is appreciated. Daniels mostly avoids narrating, and gives a good personal perspective to the film, without beating his listening audience over the head.

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
Featurettes start with ‘From Push to Precious’ (15:20, HD), which explores the story’s roots in the form of interviews with writer Sapphire, who describes her writing process, director Daniels, who discusses the troubles of buying the rights from Sapphire, screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher, who discusses adaptation, and all three discuss working together. This is augmented with a second interview featuring both Sapphire and Daniels (8:30, HD). ‘A Precious Ensemble’ (18:30, HD) explores the film’s capable cast. The casting of Precious herself is the most interesting part of this particular story (it’s almost unbelievable how different Gabouray Sidibe is from her on screen persona), as the other parts reek a bit of fluffy back patting. Mariah Cary undermines much of her performance by complaining about her non-make-up look. ‘Opera and Tyler: A Project of Passion’ (9:30, HD) discusses the attachment of Perry and Opera’s name to the project, which was done after the film was completed and shown at Sundance. It’s always good to see walking conglomerates like these putting their names behind something worthy which would likely be otherwise overlooked.

The extras are completed with Gabourey Sidibe’s audition tape (2:30, HD), a deleted scene (‘The Incest Survivor’s Meeting’, 1:45, HD), three ‘Reflections on Precious’ with Daniels (:20, HD), Sidibe (:20, HD) and Paula Patton (:10, HD), a trailer, and trailers for other Lionsgate releases on Blu-ray.

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

Overall


Precious feels very exploitative at times, and threatens to trip into parody at others, but Lee Daniels’ direction is solid, and the acting so natural it’s hard not to be swept into this depressing little world. The biggest problems are found in the script and the pacing (fourth act elongates the narrative into a more episodic mode), but for the most part these are forgivable shortcomings set amongst some breathtaking visual moments. I hope the film finds the right audience and teaches the right morals, even if many of us will fairly dismiss the whole project as an almost pornographic head first dive into heavy handed depression. This Blu-ray release is the ideal way to watch the visually intense film, the DTS-HD sound is sharp, and the extras are entertaining and informative, though a little brief.

Reviewer Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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