Precious Jones, an inner-city high school girl, is illiterate, overweight, and pregnant…again. Naïve and abused, Precious responds to a glimmer of hope when a door is opened by an alternative-school teacher. She is faced with the choice to follow opportunity and test her own boundaries. Prepare for shock, revelation and celebration.
Not every movie can survive the kind of hype--multiple awards at Sundance and other festivals, rapturous reviews, nominated for six Academy Awards and winner of two, for Best Supporting Actress and Best Screenplay--that greeted the release of Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire
, but this extraordinary piece of work is more than up to the task. What's particularly notable about the film's success and acclaim is that in the beginning, at least, it presents one of the grimmest scenarios imaginable. The scene is Harlem, New York, in 1987. Teenager Clarisse Precious Jones (played by newcomer Gabourey Sibide in an absolutely fearless performance) is dirt poor, morbidly obese, semiliterate, and pregnant for the second time--both courtesy of her own father (the first baby was born with Down syndrome). Her home life is several levels below Hell, as her bitter, vengeful welfare mother, Mary (Mo'Nique, in a role that has generated legitimate Oscar® buzz), abuses her both physically and otherwise (telling Precious she should have aborted her is only the worst of a relentless flood of insults and vitriol). Yet somehow, the young woman still has hopes and dreams (depicted in a series of delightful fantasy sequences). She enrolls in an alternative school, where a young teacher (Paula Patton) takes her under her wing and even into her home, and visits a social worker (an excellent Mariah Carey; fellow pop star Lenny Kravitz is also effective as a male nurse) who further helps bring Precious out of the darkness. Incredibly, Precious's circumstances deteriorate even more before showing the slightest sign of improvement, and a climactic confrontation with her mother is one of the more wrenching scenes in recent memory. But against all odds, director Lee Daniels, screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher (working from Sapphire's novel), and especially the wondrously affecting Sibide have managed to make Precious
a film that will lift the viewer far higher up that one might ever have thought possible. --Sam Graham