Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
A harrowing story of a teenager’s survival and self-reliance amid demonic domesticity, director Lee Daniels’ 2009 drama addressed characters’ afflictions head-on and featured two remarkable performances from Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe and Mo’Nique.
Sidibe is Precious, a severely overweight 16-year-old black teenager from Harlem circa 1987 — pregnant for the second time by her own father, physically, verbally and sexually abused by her mother (Mo’Nique) and kicked out of public school. Only a kindly alternative-school teacher (Paula Patton) extends to her a possible way out.
Where the Daniels-written Monster’s Ball paraded tragedy to the point of bordering on parody, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire isn’t as relentlessly without hope. It’s a measured and mature, if graphically forthright, story of poverty and strife that musters striking inner-city iconography for communion and baptism.
Sidibe puts forth brave, fearlessly resilient work in slowly casting off Precious’s shell — a marvel to watch as she grows increasingly proactive, informed, instructive and empowered.
On the flipside, Monique provides the most atypical actress-to-role matchup since Charlize Theron in Monster, and the sassy comedienne alters her body in no way other than posture, attitude and charred disposition. Her showcase is a soliloquy that, in a softer film, would attempt to solicit sympathy. Instead, her exhaustively evil, jealous, manipulative harridan’s emotions are explained without redemptive qualities.
There are no simple answers or easy outs in Precious, only hard confrontations and tougher conclusions. Whatever lies ahead on Precious’s path is unknown, but it’s an uncertainty underwritten by inspiration to rise, if only to the middle.