Several weeks ago an irate letter-writer worried in "The Post-Standard" that Syracuse might miss "Precious" altogether. Although that letter actually appeared the morning after Nat Tobin announced on his weekly e-list that he was bringing "Precious" to Manlius Art Cinema, there was a lag before Regal Theaters booked the film into Carousel. It took breaking all sorts of attendance records in the very limited initial theatrical release that "Precious" got from Lionsgate Films for the mall chains -- here and in 100 markets nationwide -- to get wind of its profitability. "Precious" -- based, as its longer official title tells us, on the 1996 novel "Push" by Sapphire -- opened last Friday at both Manlius and Carousel Mall, and it was satisfying to see some weekend showings sold out.
The first film ever to win the Audience Award at both the Sundance and Toronto film festivals, "Precious" is the second feature film directed by Lee Daniels, who has mainly worked as a producer on edgy films like "Monster's Ball." Set in 1987, the film tells the story of teen-aged Claireece "Precious" Jones (Gabourey Sidibe), her sexual and physical abuse at the hands of both her father and her mother Mary (Mo'Nique), and how a teacher, Ms. Rain (Paula Patton), and a social services worker, Mrs. Weiss (Mariah Carey), intervene. Let me say early on that if Lee Daniels and Mo'Nique don't get Oscar nominations, there is no justice.
As the film opens, Precious is pregnant with her second child and has been suspended from her public school in Harlem. She's referred to Each One Teach One, an alternative pre-GED program (if that sounds familiar to you, yes, the film uses a program of the Syracuse-based ProLiteracy, an item way at the tail end of the credits). Despite her own nearly paralyzing fears and her mother's vigorous encouragement to get on welfare and stay home with her instead, Precious goes to school and, little by little, she and her classmates grow and bond. She also applies for her own welfare, which in this case would open the door to independence from her mother, who's already running a scam involving Precious' first child. Precious has her baby and decides to keep him, which provokes a brutal explosion when she tries to take the infant home. Coatless, Precious lands on the nighttime winter streets, narrowly avoiding the television thrown down the stairwell after her. Thanks to Ms. Rain, who pulls in all the chips on her considerable Rolodex file, there's housing out there for Precious and little Abdul, and -- I'm leaving out a lot here -- Precious has a chance to decisively reject ever going home again.