BOOK and MOVIE: Push by Sapphire (1996), Precious (film version) (2009)

Two weeks ago, I read the novel Push by Sapphire, and then last week, I saw the movie that was based on it, Precious.  I had been reading gushing reviews of the film ever since it came out a few months back, and had been really intrigued by it, so when it left theaters before I’d had a chance to see it, I decided to pick up a copy of the book and start there instead.

Unfortunately, I think the brilliance of the novel so overshadowed the film for me that I wasn’t able to appreciate the movie version very much at all.  The story centers on a sixteen year-old, dirt-poor, African-American girl in Harlem named Precious Jones.  Pregnant with her second child (both children the product of incest with her father), Precious is kicked out of school.  She finds out about an alternative program in her area, Each One Teach One, and, after some nudging from a school counselor who believes in her, she gets herself registered, wanting desperately to learn how to read and write.

There, she meets Blue Rain, her teacher and ultimately the woman who inspires Precious to get back on her feet and press on towards a brighter future.  Miz Rain, as Precious calls her, teaches a class for teenagers who can’t read or write, and her unique instruction methods (she has all the students write in a journal daily, whether or not they can write at all, and responds personally to every one of their entries) inspire the students and bring them together into a tight bond.

When Precious has her second baby and her abusive mother sends the baby flying to the to the floor in a fit of rage, blaming Precious for “stealing her man” (which tells you everything you need to know about her mother, right there), Miz Rain helps her find a halfway house where she and her newborn son, Abdul, can live safely.  Eventually, Precious also regains custody of her first child, a daughter with Down’s Syndrome she calls “Little Mongo,” and by the end of the story, we know Precious Jones and her babies are gonna be all right.

The novel version of this story is written in Precious’s voice, the text spelled phonetically just as she’s speaking it.  While it took me a few pages to get into the rhythm of this writing style, ultimately, I found it absolutely overwhelmingly powerful.  It takes us right into her head, and the details of her emotional responses to her repeated rapes by her father literally made me break down and weep time and time again.  So much confusion, so much shame, so much terror, and all in such a little, little girl.  It’s just heartbreaking.  To then watch her writing change as she begins to learn from and be inspired by her teacher is a revelation, and by the end of this novel, I felt like I knew Precious Jones as well as I’ve ever known anybody.  I loved her.  I loved her.

The film, on the other hand, kind of robs you of that inside look at Precious, and necessarily so.   It can’t be filmed the way it was written — there’s no way to make that work.  But without that intense inner voice, that uniqueness, the story ends up losing a lot of its impact and mostly just ended up feeling t0 me like every other inspiring-schoolteacher-with-poor-troubled-students film I’ve ever seen.  It follows exactly that pattern and, as such, is pretty predictable.

That said, the acting in the film is phenomenal.  I was moved very much by Gabourey Sidibe’s performance as Precious, and Mo’Nique’s, as her brutal, equally-broken mother (Mo’Nique just won a Golden Globe for this role, I believe).  Actress Paula Patton (Deja Vu and Mirrors) is also great in the role of Blue Rain and it was nice to see her in a meatier part like this at last.   Additionally, Lenny Kravitz surprised me by showing up (What the. . .?  Is that LENNY KRAVITZ?)  and then doing a pretty decent job with his role as Precious’s maternity ward nurse, and even though he was clearly added to the film as eye candy (his character isn’t in the book at all, I don’t think), I did not mind this one iota.  No sir.  Not one bit.

Overall, I think this is an absolutely riveting, beautiful, inspiring story, and one not to be missed.  But my recommendation is to skip the movie and go straight to the book.  If you feel a need to cover both bases, I’d suggest, in that case, starting with the film.  I think if I’d gone that route myself, I would’ve appreciated the film a lot more than I did.  Instead, the moment the movie was over, I just wanted to pick the book back up again so I could reacquaint myself with the REAL Precious.  She is, quite simply, an inspiration.

Highly recommended!

[Buy the book | Browse recent book reviews | Browse older book reviews]

[Buy the movie | Netflix it]

Genre:  Fiction/Drama
Film cast:  Mo’Nique, Gabourey Sidibe, Paula Patton, Mariah Carrey, Lenny Kravitz

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4 Responses to “BOOK and MOVIE: Push by Sapphire (1996), Precious (film version) (2009)”

  1. Liz Says:

    Fascinating, what you say about Book vs. Movie. As usual, you hit the nail on the head; literature and visual drama are DIFFERENT mediums, and what works in one, might not work for the other. I thought Peter Jackson dealt with transferring books to the screen very well with the “LOTR” trilogy – no easy job! And I know he had to cut quite a lot, plus change the order of events around – but I’m not sure everyone would agree with me.

    Mo’Nique did indeed win a Golden Globe for this. She also won a SAG award – I wonder if that means she’s going to win an Oscar, too! I’m interested that you basically preferred the book, since I’ve heard SO MUCH praise about this movie. Unfortunately, I take that to mean that almost any undertaking that deals with the trials and brutalities that Black women still have to face is going to receive a lot of attention. Look at the big deals that have been made about Tyler Perry’s “Madea” movies – and those are just a man in drag, getting to act outrageous! (See John Travolta in “Hairspray” – yuck!) (BTW, that was Tyler Perry as the admiral in “Star Trek!”)

    I saw an excellent film about a group of Black women in the 1960’s, which has hardly gotten any hype: “The Secret Life of Bees.” It features three singers, doing fine work as “serious” actors: Queen Latifah (whom I love anyway), Jennifer Hudson, and … Alicia Keyes! There’s another actress, Sophie Okenunda (I’m not at all sure I’ve got her last name right) who was wonderful. (She played “Nancy” in a recent version of “Oliver Twist,”) And … a decidedly UN-annoying Dakota Fanning, finally starting to grow up!

    I know I keep mentioning movies I think you’ll like, but I can’t help it – I always find myself curious about what you’d think. Did you get my post about “Watchmen?” Another interesting – albeit bizarre – film.

  2. megwood Says:

    I haven’t seen Watchmen — I had read the comic and liked it a lot and when the movie came out, the comic fans all hated it, so I was wary. But I’m not really a big comic geek, so I should try it anyway! I will add it to my list (and sorry, I meant to reply to you on that and it got buried in the shuffle!).

    I really enjoyed Secret Life of Bees, too! Saw that one with Mom last year, I think. We both liked it!

    Didn’t realize that was Tyler Perry in ST! I haven’t seen any of the Madea films, have you?

  3. Olive Says:

    wow great review i loved the movie but of course the book was even better. i hope everyone that has a life like precious gets a way out. no one deserves a life like that.

  4. Arteater Says:

    Reblogged this on arteator.

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