I had never heard of Mo’Nique until she suddenly became the overwhelming frontrunner for the Oscar with one of the most praised performances of the last decade. In Precious, she played Mary Jones, the abusive and violent mother of the title character. I was not really sure what to expect from this performance. My ranking of Shelley Winters in A Patch of Blue already showed that I don’t care very much for those loud but ultimately empty and thin performances and Mo’Nique’s role in Precious is certainly very similar to that of Shelley Winters. But in the end, her performance achieved a much higher position because Mo’Nique achieves a level of intensity and horror that Shelley Winters does not even come close to – Shelley Winters was mostly a caricature, Mo’Nique is frighteningly real.
Of course, Mo’Nique faces the same problems as Shelley Winters – the limitations of the character. Just like Shelley Winters, Mo’Nique shouts and beats, she is almost like a cliché but she survives all this thanks to her overwhelming force and her celebrated final scene.
Right from the start, Precious leaves little doubt about the character of Mary – the way the camera finds her sleeping body already indicates trouble and a few seconds later she beats her daughter unconscious. But when she runs after her daughter, shouting at her or yells at her from down the stairs, Mo’Nique becomes such a force of nature, such a repellent creature that the screen probably can’t decide if it should burn or freeze from all her hate and anger.
Later scenes when Mary pretends to be a completely different person in front of a woman from social welfare and right after she left almost throws her grandson from the couch is again a moment that does not really allow Mo’Nique anything else than playing a cliché but she again makes it all believable and creates a character that is ultimately much more realistic than expected.
But in the end, it all comes down to her final monologue which is certainly one of the strongest scenes this category provides. Not holding back, Mo’Nique displays an unbelievable amount of emotions and feelings, giving a face to a character that cannot be understood. Very few performers have been so raw, so honest, so open and so unaffected at the same moment.
Most people would probably list this performance much higher, maybe even on number 1 in a ranking like this. Personally, the limitations that the early parts of her performance present keep from letting her go so high and I have to be honest and say that Mo’Nique gives only my fourth favorite performance in the cast but it’s still a powerful and outstanding portrayal that deservedly became such a sensation.