I should start out by emphasizing that I disagree with much of the criticism the film has been receiving. A common disparagement condemns the movie as "emotionally manipulative" and "superficially inspirational", much like other films that fall into the category of the "inspirational dramas" depicting stories of individuals overcoming obstacles and hardships that many people seem to hate. Well, I personally found that the film portrays a reality far too bleak and dismal and brutal for it to possibly be considered "inspirational"; in addition, while the film ends on somewhat of a high note, even that is laced with misery and becomes the lesser of two evils for the protagonist. Another criticism of the film – and of the book it is based on – is from the opposite end of the spectrum, and blames the film for portraying TOO bleak a situation to the point of exploitation. I personally found the scenario portrayed in the film to be strikingly realistic, and I think that people who are too ignorant to realize that such a grim existence can feasibly be led in 21st century America need a serious wake-up call.
One aspect of the film that deserves all the praise in the world is its cast, specifically the performances of its lead actresses and the surprising and unexpected quality of these performances considering the particular thespians involved. First and foremost, we have the breakout role of Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe, portraying the overweight, twice-pregnant and illiterate protagonist, Precious. The performance is a revelation both because of how convincingly Sidibe reacts to and interacts with her brutal day-to-day existence, but also because of how completely removed it is from the first-time actresses' actual life. It's always impressive to see a performer convincingly convey difficult and profound emotions that they probably would never feel themselves in their real lives, but for a first-time actress to convey these emotions is particularly incredible. Precious' life is populated by three prominent adult characters; two of which see past her daunting exterior and genuinely want to help her, and one who does the exact opposite. Mariah Carey plays a social worker who takes a personal interest in Precious' case and, in the film's most dramatically gut-wrenching scene, makes a genuine attempt to bridge the gap between the teenager and her monstrous mother. Carey has only ever acted in two or three other films, including the atrocious vanity project "Glitter", but in this role, she de-glams, puts on a convincing and raspy accent and actually manages to deliver a surprisingly well rounded and convincing performance. Paula Patton plays another alternate mother figure in Precious' life, her teacher at her alternate school who takes a particularly personal interest in Precious, to the point of letter her stay at her home when she has nowhere else to go. Unlike Mariah Carey, Patton never did anything to totally remove my confidence in her acting abilities, but then again, she's never actually given what can really be considered a "good" performance, which is what makes her tender and genuine turn in this film most impressive. But the scene-stealer is without a doubt Mo'Nique, probably one of my LEAST favorite "comedic" performers who totally redeems herself and manages to deliver a frighteningly convincing performance, incredibly transforming herself into Precious' villainous, sadistic and purely evil mother. It is an incredible and difficult and extremely brave performance, and is even more impressive considering that it's coming from the star of "Phat Girlz".
The performances are rich and incredible enough to hold up dramatic scenes, but not the narrative as a whole, which, as I mentioned before, suffers from a series of bad directorial choices made by director Lee Daniels. The film's biggest flow is emotional inconsistency: in an attempt to portray Precious' inner feelings, Daniels injects strangely conceived fantasy sequences at key dramatic moments in which Precious imagines herself as a glamorous and famous personality. While the intention of these sequences is clear, their abruptness just totally jolts the audience out of the emotional flow of the film, and they just seem out of place. For a similar reason, Daniels chooses to set grim and dramatic scenes to oddly inappropriate songs and musical cues, which once again just feel forced and out of place, and interrupt the emotional resonance of the scenes. Other than that, the film just seems poorly done at times, or simply unfinished: the cinematography is inconsistent and often features zooms and loss of focus that don't feel like stylistic choices but rather just like mistakes. In addition, the editing is quite disjointed at times, and many cuts interrupt musical cues in the middle or otherwise are just so sudden and jumbled that they completely ruin the dramatic flow. Finally, I just felt that while many separate scenes work wonderfully and are emotional and genuinely gut-wrenching, they are just too loosely connected for the film to actually carry a consistent dramatic arc throughout, as it jumps between Precious' brutal home life to her newfound support in her classroom to her day-to-day activities to her inner fantasies. For example, a major dramatic reveal near the end of the film end sup completely ignored and thus irrelevant to the dramatic arc. As I mentioned earlier, the performances are absolutely spectacular, but the inconsistencies in the film's tone and its jumbled and odd editing take away from what otherwise could have been a genuinely affective film.