Baby Mama Dearest, but minus the coat hangers and Hollywood mansion, the ironically titled Precious wallows in anything but. Part ghetto afterschool special, part bad parenting horror movie, Precious reveals less about underclass urban existence than class snobbery and contempt within bourgie black culture. And while written by Columbia professor and Harvard grad Geoffrey Fletcher and directed by Lee Daniels, producer of Monster’s Ball, this perpetual inner city monster’s brawl may as well have rolled off the Bill Cosby assembly line school of grotesque anti-ghetto moviemaking.
With its movie marquee challenged full title, Precious: Based On The Novel “Push” By Sapphire, the film’s excess also extends to its unrelenting, anti-pity party putdown of troubled, more likely than not doomed lives of welfare mothers. Playing out towards the end of the Greed Decade in 1980s Harlem, the film stars Gabourey ‘Gabby’ Sidibe as Clareece ‘Precious’ Jones, a sixteen year old morbidly obese high school student and teenage mother who daydreams about romance with white or at least light skinned lovers, when not being raped and impregnated by Dad and severely emotionally abused and beaten by her scornful slacker welfare mother, Mary (Mo’Nique).
Well on her way to a second child courtesy of her primarily absentee father, Precious, frequently nicknamed Dumb Bitch at home, is also the mother of a mongoloid infant she’s apparently aptly named Mongo, frequently nicknamed Dumb Animal. Who lives with Mary’s mother, but is borrowed back occasionally when the welfare workers are due to pay financial eligibility visits to their inexplicably elegant duplex tenement slum apartment.
And while Mary regularly acts on borderline homicidal impulses towards Precious, sexually and otherwise for stealing ‘my man,’ the pigs feet devouring mean mom is at the same time dependent on her tormented daughter to cook up greasy meals, in a kind of warped parental role reversal with a side order of sibling rivalry. And assorted maternal punishments heaped on Precious include a television thrown at her head, tossing her babies around the room, and being forced to overeat. Though occasionally Mom is too busy brooding to feed her at all, at which times Precious saunters over to the nearest fried chicken dive to run off with a bucket without stopping at the cashier, later devouring the entire artery clogging contents on the sly.
After discovering her pregnancy, the principal sends Precious over to an alternative school, where she learns self-respect combined with an urge to flee the impoverished black community. Mariah Carey also turns up periodically as the racially ambiguous welfare worker Mrs. Weiss, who threatens to cut off Mary’s welfare checks unless she fesses up about that recreational incest at home. Not sure on what planet welfare workers cross the line into this vigilante extra-judicial penal territory, but it certainly isn’t this one.
Precious boasts exceptional performances, but is social pornography at its worst, festering in racial self-loathing and oblivious to an economic system that routinely neglects its neediest and most vulnerable. And making those inbred white trash screen caricatures look like family values filmmaking at its finest in comparison. While certain to reinforce white prejudices related to African American criminality, ghetto mothers as conniving, evil and violent welfare cheats, and habitual eating disorder fast food binges as sources of bad bodies and bad behavior alike.
1 1/2 stars
DVD Features: A Conversation with Author Sapphire and Director Lee Daniels; Audio Commentary with Director Lee Daniels; Audition: Gabourey Sidibe; Deleted Scene: The Incest Survivor Meeting; Featurettes: From Push to Precious, A Precious Ensemble,; Oprah and Tyler: A Project of Passion; Interactive Menus; Reflections on Precious.