Precious: Based On The Novel Push by Sapphire [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (21st May 2010).
The Film

One of the best films of 2009 was also one of the most depressing and bleak portraits of a human being I have seen in a long time. Everything that's awful in this world lands on the title character of this film, and just when you think the worst is over, it gets even worse. The only silver lining in this film is hope, the audiences clings onto it, we have to, otherwise we'll be sucked in a deep despair and no one wants to see a film that's so bleak and depressing that there's no light at the end... "Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire" or simply "Precious" was the low-budget festival darling that built it's audience slowly but surely over a year, built upon strong direction and excellent career-making performances, "Precious" would continue its moment into the Oscars earning six nominations and picking two wins for 'Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role' for Mo'Nique and 'Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published' for screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher. Both earned deservedly. It's a heavy film to digest and not for everyone considering the themes, however in saying that it's a rewarding and well constructed piece of drama.

"Precious" tells the story of the title character played by newcomer Gabourey Sidibe, Precious' life is in shambles, raped twice by her father, Precious is pregnant for the second time. Her mother, Mary (Mo'Nique) treats her daughter like dirt, an uneducated, unemployed woman who takes advantage of social welfare, often using Precious' child as her own to cash the welfare checks. As much as her home life is challenging, her school life is just as hard, an illiterate to begin with, Precious finds herself swept under the carpet so to speak and is encouraged to enroll in a special program for troubled kids. It's here that she learns valuable life lessons, forms a camaraderie with the other kids and dreams of one day being famous and gawked at instead of having to hind in her shame. The new direction offers some light in her otherwise dark world, but the darkness always creeps back in when she discovers she has HIV, transmitted to her through her rapist father. In this time she grows strong enough to strive for the best when it comes to her kids and finally turn her back on her deadbeat mother.

If you're looking for a silver lining with a happy ending, look elsewhere, there are plenty of Disney films that can offer you that, "Precious" is one depressing film, this character is beat on by the whole world, undeserved, her life can be described as a living nightmare. However there's a naivety to Precious that no matter how dark things get she can resort to her fantasy world of dreaming of being the focus of attention. Then moves onto the the next challenge. On the outside she maybe an overweight and sad individual, but inside she's a rock, formed from years of abuse. This allows her to power forward, there are moments where she's close to giving up, but that's where her classmates and teacher Ms. Rain (Paula Patton) offers support. Precious is a complicated character, one with an equal balance of dynamic range of emotion, perseverance and also vulnerability. Played to perfection from newcomer Gabourey Sidibe who astounds the viewer from frame to frame. She is a true cinematic find, a non-actor plucked from obscurity and able to deliver an Oscar-worthy performance, no matter how dark the film's themes get, it's worth watching for Gabourey Sidibe.

Supporting this newcomer on the screen are a collection if equally impressive talent, starting with the comedienne Mo'Nique playing Precious' abusive and ignorant mother, I've never hated so much with such passion as I did for her character Mary. The woman is vile, offensive, and scum of the Earth to treat her own flesh and blood the way she does. She truly captured the essence of the character and delivered a believable turn that never falls into cliche or parody, which it could easily have, kudos to director Lee Daniels for handling these characters with gloves and crafting a truly excellent piece of dramatic film work. Hell, even Mariah Carey does good work in this film... yeah... Mariah Carey!

Speaking of which, the film was shot on a low budget, which in this case is not to its detriment, but rather uses it to its advantage, the grittiness of the film adds a layer of reality that whiz-bang production values and glossy film stocks could not have offered. The rough and ready camera work by cinematographer Andrew Dunn (which was surprising considering his previous works include 'elegantly' shot films like "Gosford Park" (2001), "Mrs. Henderson Presents" (2005) and "Miss Potter" (2006)) and the real-life locations ground the film and make it wholly immersive.

The film doesn't offer wins in every category however, the film may have won an Oscar for screenplay, but I found that a lot of the film's structure felt choppy and focused on some aspects of Precious' ordeals while placing others to the background, her illiteracy for one doesn't feel like it was given enough attention, there were scenes at the start that hinted she can read and write at a basic level, then a scene in Ms. Rains' classroom where we discover she's totally illiterate. There are choppy elements like this throughout the film, in the grand scheme of things it's a small gripe and mostly forgivable as it doesn't deter one from the overall film nor does it offer up gaping moments that leave viewers wondering.

It was hard to convince myself to watch this film and review it, after all it's been sitting on my review pile now for a couple of months (sorry Lionsgate for taking so long), but the subject matter deterred me, but having gone through the film it was an ultimately rewarding viewing experience and how many times can you truly say that about a depressing subject matter? If you haven't seen it yet for the same reasons it took me this long to watch and review it, learn from me, go see this film now, there's a reason it was one of the best films of 2009.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 1.85:1 in high-definition 1080p 24/fps mastered using AVC MPEG-4 compression. The film offers up a fairly naturally lit picture, Daniels and cinematographer Dunn, have crafted a gritty and realistic looking film. There are no Hollywood lighting effects, no dynamic camera movements. The transfer for the most part replicates the look of the film solidly. While some shots appear a little softer than others, sharpness is not consistent and some darkly lit scenes offer up some noise, these are the only two problems I had with this transfer. For the most part the colors are natural, the image is sometimes grainy but clean, detail and textures also look good.

Audio

Two audio tracks are included here in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mixed at 48kHz/24-bit and a French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track. Being a dramatic film what we have here is a solid track of dialogue, ambiance and score. The film's audio is simplistic but effective, with clean and distortion free dialogue, ambient sounds of the city reel the viewer into the surroundings and the film's score uses the surround channels well for additional depth. There's not a whole lot that can be said about this track other than it suits the film and is effective.
optional subtitles are included in English, English for the hearing impaired and Spanish.

Extras

Lionsgate has released this film with an audio commentary, five featurettes, a deleted scene, additional clips, a theatrical trailer, bonus trailers and a bookmark function. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

First up is a feature-length audio commentary by the film's director Lee Daniels. Daniels takes us through the usual motions of film production from the adaptation process, to casting and shooting. He offers up an informative track that takes viewers into the mindset of the director and provides an insight into the making of the film. He comments on some social issues that are reflected in this film, talks about some of the challenges faced during productions among other things. There are no surprises here, just the usual, but it's worth listening to.

"From Push to Precious" is a featurette which runs for 15 minutes 22 seconds, this clip takes a look at the adaptation process, we get a look at the writing of the book, the process of getting to the screen. This is basically a collection of interviews with both the author of the book and the screenwriter.

"A Precious Ensemble" is the next featurette that runs for 18 minutes 32 seconds, here we get a closer look at the casting of the film, how Daniels approached the casting, on working with them and how great they are as well as a look at how Gabourey Sidibe had come to audition for the film.

"Oprah and Tyler: A Project of Passion" follows next, this featurette runs for 9 minutes 31 seconds, "Precious" was an independently financed film and after the film's premiere at Sundance, both Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry got involved in getting the film out there. They comment on the effect the film had on them and how they felt the film required a wide distribution.

"A Conversation with Lee Daniels and Sapphire" featurette is next and runs for 8 minutes 27 seconds. There's a bit of back-patting going on here but these two talk about various social issues that impacted the African-American community and how these issues made their way into the film and became underlying themes.

"Audition: Gabourey Sidibe" is the last featurette which runs for 2 minutes 33 seconds, this is exactly what the title suggests, it's an audition video.

A single deleted scene is included entitled "The Incest Survivor Meeting" runs for 1 minute 45 seconds, in this scene Precious opens up to a group about her abuse.

Next up are three "Reflections on Precious" clips, these brief clips show us what the film and its themes mean to the people, they include:

- Lee Daniels, which runs for 19 seconds.
- Gabourey Sidibe, runs for 19 seconds.
- Paula Patton, runs for 12 seconds.

We also have the film's original theatrical trailer which runs for 2 minutes 32 seconds.

There are also a collection of bonus trailers for:

- "Brothers" which runs for 2 minutes 32 seconds.
- "Monster's Ball" which runs for 1 minute 35 seconds.
- "Daddy's Little Girls" which runs for 2 minute 24 seconds.
- "Lionsgate Blu-ray" spot which runs for 1 minute 10 seconds.

Finally the only Blu-ray exclusive extras is a bookmarking feature that allows you to bookmark your favorite scenes.

Overall

The Film: A- Video: B+ Audio: B+ Extras: B+ Overall: B+

 


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