- The Washington Times - Friday, November 13, 2009

Harrowing and sometimes hard to watch, “Precious” is a tale of unrelenting misery that suggests just enough of a silver lining to keep audiences from spiraling into total depression.

Precious (Gabourey Sidibe) is a 16-year-old girl in 1987 Harlem who is pregnant with her second child, fathered by her own father, as was her first. She’s obese, friendless and illiterate. Her mother, Mary (Mo’Nique), is a monster who beats her and screams at her to drop out of school and get on welfare, as Mary has done.

After Precious is forced out of school because of her pregnancy, her principal finds her a space at a special-needs school for troubled teens and young adults. Here Precious and her (also illiterate) classmates are given extra love by their teacher, Ms. Rain (Paula Patton), a second shot at life and a last chance to get an education.

This isn’t a feel-good story of redemption and students made good, however. There’s no rousing “Stand and Deliver” finale in the works for Precious. College boards aren’t in the cards for this girl; simply learning to read and gaining placement in a halfway house is as good as it’s going to get.

That may be the biggest problem with “Precious.” After enduring two hours of hate and ugliness rarely seen so viscerally on the big screen, we’re left with no more than an ambiguous, ethereal hope of redemption. It’s like an urban version of Darren Aronofsky’s opus on addiction, “Requiem for a Dream”: Unrelenting and unmoved by the audience’s cringing, director Lee Daniels pushes bravely — even angrily — forward to expose the harshness of inner city life.

In conjuring his urban nightmare, Mr. Daniels wrings career-best performances out of nearly every member of his cast. Newcomer Miss Sidibe plays Precious with a heartbreaking mixture of stone-faced contempt for the world and longing to improve her situation.

As good as Miss Sidibe is, Mo’Nique is better. Her turn as Precious’ mother is alternately disturbing and devastating, and the film’s climax — when she explains just why she allowed the abuse of her daughter to go on — is the single most powerful scene in film this year. Don’t be surprised to hear her name called during the Academy Awards next March.

Still, the biggest revelation here has to be the performance turned in by Mariah Carey as a social worker trying to get to the bottom of Precious’ problems. Yes, that Mariah Carey. Stripped of makeup and fitted with clothes that must have come from the nearest J.C. Penny, an unrecognizable Miss Carey has, with this deep portrayal, earned a second chance after being left on the ash heap of career-killing roles following the abomination that was “Glitter.”

★★★
TITLE: “Precious”
RATING: R (child abuse, including sexual assault and pervasive language)
CREDITS: Directed by Lee Daniels, written by Geoffrey Fletcher
RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes
WEB SITE: https://www.weareallprecious.com/
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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