Amidst this melodramatic, exploitive stew of sodomy, incest, and Reaganesque welfare queenery is the expected light at the end of the tunnel, here in the unsurprising image of a teacher named Blu Rain (Paula Patton). We know she’s heroic and wise and Christ-like because she’s both beautiful and light-skinned, as are all those who offer assistance to the dark, mysterious Precious. Ms. Rain is also a lesbian, which would normally put her at arm’s length in such a tale (Precious informs us that her mother believes homosexuals are evil, though it’s important to add that she also thinks she’s safe from AIDS because her man never fucked her up the butt), but it’s a new day, and as with so much else, what was once a sign of deviance, now connotes inherent decency. It remains unanswered how Precious is heroic when her every new day is provided by an agent of the state.
Blu conducts a class for dropouts and the like, which is where Precious ends up after being thrown out of school for getting pregnant a second time (needless to say, this act makes the school official a symbol of monstrous evil). Without pause, the Dangerous Minds script takes it from here, whereby drug addicts, teenage mothers, and savage illiterates are, after a few winks of encouragement from a pretty Mr. Chips stand-in, transformed into budding poets, dreamers, and huggable eccentrics. No prizes for guessing that this same motley crew goofs and gabs its way to the hospital as Precious is whisked through the halls by Lenny Kravitz. Sure, she’s 16, pretty much homeless, broke, and a criminal (earlier, she stole a bucket of chicken – no lie), but don’t tell her she can’t complain about a hospital meal being paid for by Joe Taxpayer.
And so we beat on: a snapshot of the world’s most chaotic and unproductive “English” class here, Mo’Nique growling like a house afire there, with a tear running down Mariah Carey’s makeup-free cheek to close the deal. And yes, when the diva first appeared on screen, the audience chatter turned on a dime from calls for Mo’Nique’s fleshy arm on a platter to a uniform buzz of “Isn’t that…”, as if they were picking out some random street bum from a lineup. The woman behind me had to have a second scene with the musical mega-star to be sure, but rest assured, she was finally convinced by her companion. Her turn as a sassy social worker might allow us to finally forgive and forget Glitter, but “not sucking” is not exactly the same as preparing a speech for Oscar night.
Precious gets through her hellish existence via the fantasy sequence, which is pretty much standard for all victims of rape and frying pans to the skull. Every time things get bad, she retreats to a glamorous world of high fashion, paparazzi, and red carpets. At times, when life is at its worst, she’ll become part of a movie, as when she “walks” into the Sophia Loren vehicle Two Women. Or when she has visions of the tank man in Tiananmen Square on a classroom wall, even though the event is two years in the future, meaning that clairvoyance is apparently a byproduct of anal. There’s much to loathe here, but these scenes are especially inept, given how awkwardly they are meant to break the mood. Nervous laughter tittered throughout the theater, but I was simply aghast at how absurdly unnecessary they were, both at conveying Precious’ inner life and furthering the story. Surely Hollywood has moved beyond these cloying devices as a means to express a character’s desire to escape. In Precious, they’re treated as a revelation.
There will be the expected calls for Gabby Sidibe to collect her prizes for her performance as the much put-upon Precious, but sitting around looking sweaty and sad should not be enough to turn heads. We’re told she’s a good girl waiting to bust out, and that she has sweetness in her soul, but such traits are never fully expressed by an actress looking more lost than forlorn. Thankfully, she never challenges credibility with an unexpected burst of articulate rage, but she pretty much lumbers along from scene to scene; functional, but not heart-rending. She’s asked to carry the weight of a thousand symbolic gestures, when it’s all she can do to keep her eyes open. One is sorry for her, but what can be done? Or maybe it’s the fact that once again, a cinematic Job is told to push on solely because she’s loved by her baby boy. In all, it’s an exercise in voyeuristic disgust, rubbing our noses in stereotype and racial ugliness, yet damning us for not gnashing our teeth in outrage. It wants to have it both ways, and ends up with neither.