Sadness, terror, and hope in “Precious”

I have never seen people flinching in a press screening of a movie until this week, when a group gathered to watch Lee Daniels “Precious.”

It’s probably a good sign that even today in the age of 3D gorefests cinema has not lost its ability to shock with an all-too-real story.

The tale of Claireece “Precious” Jones is brutal. She’s a 350lb teenager pregnant with her second child by her now absent father. She lives at the beck and call of her monstrous mother Mary. She sees Precious as a servant, and simply a way to squeeze extra money out of the welfare office. When verbal abuse doesn’t produce the results Mary wants, she turns to violence.

Precious escapes into herself, sitting at the back of her classroom she dreams of being a celebrity, dressed to the nines and dancing with handsome young men. She goes there too when the blows fall about her head.

All might seem lost, but Precious catches a glimmer of hope when she transfers to a special school dedicated to getting at risk youngsters their GED. But can she make it through without her mother dragging her back into her old life?

Gabourey Sidibe (right) is simply astonishing in the title role.

She shows how tough Precious can be, displaying her determination mixed with a vulnerability which can set her back as quickly as push her forward. For a first time screen actor to carry this film is remarkable. To portray this character and turn in her into a symbol of hope is even more so.

She get a great deal of help from Mo’Nique who gives a nuanced performance as Mary, eventually explaining how she became the depraved individual she is. Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz both shed their musical personas to portray a social worker and a nurse who try to help Precious. Don’t be surprised if you hear these names again come awards season.

Precious is not an easy film, but if it provokes discussion of the abuses which are sadly all too common through out all strata of society then it will have done a service. And if it convinces even one person that there is hope that is even better.

You can watch the trailer here.

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