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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Precious

March 7th, 2010

Precious - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

Precious was filmed in late 2007 on a small budget with mostly unknown actors in the key roles. It was based on a script by a screenwriter with no other credits and directed by a director whose only previous film was panned by critics and mostly ignored by moviegoers. When the film opened at Sundance Film Festival, it didn't have high expectations for box office success. But right from the start the critical response was amazing and the buzz started to grow. By the time the film opened in limited release, the buzz had reached a crescendo, helping it break records during its opening weekend while it earned numerous nominations during Awards Season, including six Oscars On Friday it won five Independent Spirit Awards. The expectations for this film couldn't be higher.

Gabourey Sidibe plays Clareece "Precious" Jones, an illiterate, overweight, 16-year girl living in poverty with her abusive mother. At the beginning of the movie, she is expelled from school because she is pregnant with her second child. This pregnancy, like her first one, was the result of her father raping her. Unable to continue her education in a regular school, she is instead enrolled in an alternative school, Each One Teach One, where she meets her new teacher, Miss Rain. Along with her fellow students, she learns how to read and write, with the goal of getting her GED. But every time she starts to move forward, it seems life tries to knock her down again. The more she learns, the more her mother hates her. When her social worker gets involved, the abusiveness explodes and Precious has to leave her home. Outside this abusive environment, she starts to thrive, but life isn't done with her and more troubles come.

Like I said, this film rose from very humble beginnings to become one of the most talked about movies of the year. That was before it started its theatrical run. Its hype grew to large so fast that there was even an element of backlash against it. It was impossible for me not to know this going into the review, so hopefully it doesn't have an impact on my opinion.

On the plus side, practically every performance in the film is amazing. Not just good, but award-worthy. Gabourey Sidibe, Mo'Nique, Paula Patton, and Mariah Carey were all remarkable. I'm not surprised they and the young ladies that played her classmates were honored with an SAG nominee for Best Performance by a cast. (Although I'm also not surprised Inglourious Basterds won.) Additionally, the story itself is incredibly powerful. But at some point it felt like it was too much for me to take. And it's not just that it is emotionally draining, but it also feels emotionally manipulative. Suspension of disbelief starts to fail at some point when enough misery is piled onto one character. Also, while I liked some of the fantasy scenes, I think the movie was at times unnecessarily showy. The camera was a little too active. I'm not sure what the director was going for, but I found it distracting.

But to emphasize, these are minor complaints. Overall, this is a wonderful film.

Extras on the DVD include an audio commentary track with the director, Lee Daniels, who is flying solo here. Not a lot of energy and there are a few dead spots here and there, but it is still worth checking out. Next up is (From Push) to Precious, which is a making of featurette that focuses mostly on the creation of the book and its adaptation. It runs 15 minutes and is mostly talking heads, but it is also worth checking out. (A Precious) Ensemble spends 18 minutes talking about the cast, including the very difficult task of finding the perfect Precious. I would have liked to have seen something with the classmates, but it is still a strong extra. (Oprah & Tyler) A Project of Passion is nine-and-a-half minute look at the how Oprah and Tyler Perry got involved with this film. Sapphire and Lee Daniels sit down for an eight-and-a-half minute long interview. There is a 2-and-a-half minute long clip of Gabourey Sidibe's audition and a single deleted scene that is just under 2 minutes long. Finally, there are three Reflections on Precious, but combined these are under 1 minute long, which is far too short to be effective on their own and should have been cut into the "making-of" featurette.

The Blu-ray has no additional extras (although you can set bookmarks) but all the extras here are in High Definition. Speaking of which, the technical presentation can best be described as "solid". Its low-budget roots and the gritty nature of the filmmaker mean its video is not among the best I've seen, while the audio is clear but the front speakers dominate the mix. Then again, the Blu-ray also only costs 33% more than the DVD, which is perfectly acceptable for this type of release.

The Verdict

Precious is a stunning movie that deserves most, if not all, of the accolades given to it. Combined with the extras it is a contender for Pick of the Week. Both the DVD and the Blu-ray are excellent value, but the latter it worth paying extra for.

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Filed under: Video Review, Precious (Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire)