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Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire - Film Review 

 

THE OPRAH FACTOR

 

picture - PreciousMovie Review

by Kevin Bowen

published November 29, 2009

 

Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire

now playing nationwide

 

We could talk about Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire as a film, but it’s far more interesting to talk about the cultural impact of Oprah Winfrey.

 

Derived from an Oprah Book Club selection called Push, the arrival of Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire as a huge indie circuit hit and critical favorite is testament to her much-bowed-to influence.

 

When Winfrey started her book club a decade ago, cultural observers were skeptical. Would housewives really pick up the reading bug? Would she belittle literature? The verdict is in. You can’t go on a date without hearing about a woman’s book club, and all those arty coffee-shop skeptics should admit that she has been a one-woman last stand for American letters.

 

picture - PreciousThat said, there has been some truth to the criticism. It so happens that two Oprah Book Club favorites are out as films this year. The Road is a fantastic film version of a critically acclaimed novel, the sort that lit types sneered she would never champion.

 

Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire, on the other hand, is both the good and the bad of what one would expect Winfrey to bring to the table. It is powerful, but it is also exploitative. It is realistic but also melodramatic. It is a story of a young woman’s empowerment, but it is also a story deeply rooted in the Culture of Victimization spread by the Winfrey culture.

 

The good news is that it builds into a pretty watchable film that features a tremendous amount of dangerous spontaneity. While the scenes of domestic violence in Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire might not hit that level of a John Cassavetes film in this regard, they occasionally achieve that “what the hell happens next?” momentum. Yet the film just as easily slips into comedy from out of nowhere (through the adolescent fantasies of its impoverished, overweight subject Clarice Precious Jones, an African-American teen-ager living a tough life in  Harlem in the 1980s.).

 

picture - PreciousThis is a credit to first time director Lee Daniels, who obviously has a fantastic touch with actors (he may one day be known as the only person to get a good performance out of Mariah Carey).  It’s also a tribute to the comedian Mo’nique, who plays the most monstrous welfare queen you’ll ever see, and its young star Gabourey 'Gabby' Sidibe, who brings both bravery and humor to the role of a teenage mother who has seen far too much of the worst that life has to offer. There is an exaggerated quality to the characters and the actions, but you have to give the actresses credit for reining it in.

 

There has been a habit in our recent intellectual life to celebrate (perhaps over-celebrate) hidden voices and hidden perspectives. Following an illiterate heroine on the outskirts of society, Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire is undoubtedly that sort of film. It does a very respectable job of signaling the limits that we place on a person as a society based on appearance, and it breaks through those limits with a likable character with a smart inner monologue and a sweet disposition.  It’s hard not to get involved in her struggle for dignity.

 

kevinbowen @ stageandcinema.com

 

EDITOR'S NOTE:

 

CHECK OUT THIS POWERFUL POSTER THAT

WAS NOT USED IN THE EVENTUAL CAMPAIGN
Probably because it is too devastating for the masses

 

 

picture - Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire

 
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