The full and rather clumsy title of this movie is Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire. Quite why Sapphire is name-checked, I have no idea, unless it was a contractual obligation. Rather like all the tunes in the charts where we get Boring Song by Nobody-I-Know featuring Some-Other-Nobody. It’s just irritating. This, however, is the one single fault I can find with this quite astonishing piece of cinema.
I can’t remember the last time I cried unashamedly at a movie. It’s not that I am big and manly, just that it rarely happens. What really bothers me is that I was in tears for all the wrong reasons. It was the one pathetic character I was sure I hated who finished me off. Read on, I will explain.
The heroine of the piece, Clareece Precious Jones, sympathetically played by a quite wonderful Gabourey (Gabby) Sibide, is a 16-year-old girl living in Harlem in the mid-eighties. She is overweight, bullied by her mother and strangers, and semi-literate. Why, then, is she the ‘heroine’? Because Precious has a heart, a desire to make things better for herself and a fighting spirit buried underneath her browbeaten exterior. She is the poster girl for what can be achieved in the face of some quite appalling circumstances.
Precious’s mother, Mary, is played by Mo’Nique, who has already lifted the BAFTA 2010 Best Supporting Actress for her work here. You may remember her from such hilarious films as Phat Girlz (2006) or Beerfest (2006). No? Never mind, they were crap – her performance in this, though, will blow you away. Mary has few interests. The key ones seem to be smoking cigarettes, watching TV and verbally abusing and physically assaulting her punchbag daughter. She is nasty, selfish and vicious. She despises Precious and is always quick to point out that she’s stupid and will never get anywhere by going to school and that she should get down to the welfare office.
Precious’s situation is not helped by the fact that she already has a baby with Down’s Syndrome – know only as ‘Mongo’ (short for mongoloid), and another one on the way. Her father is also the father of both these children, and has been abusing Precious since she was three years old. The second pregnancy caused her to get expelled from mainstream school and she is recommended for a special educational course called ‘Each One , Teach One’ because she has above-average grades. Here, she is befriended by the teacher, Ms Rain (Paula Patton).
Precious has the baby, and takes it home to her mother, who says flatly and chillingly: “He look like his daddy.” Given the baby to hold, she purposely drops it, and launches a frenzied physical assault on Precious, who takes the baby, breaks into her school (the only safe place she knows) and is found there in the morning by her teacher. She arranges for her to stay at a halfway house while she finishes school.
As a final kick in the teeth, she is visited by her mother in her hostel. She says “Your daddy’s dead. He had that AIDS virus”. The one entry into her diary we are allowed to see says simply “Why me?”
So what is so upsetting about the end? Her mother comes to see her and her social worker, Mrs Weiss (a great performance from Mariah Carey, who I have no time for usually). She wants to reconcile with Precious and the kids. Mrs Weiss asks her about her complicity in the sexual abuse of Precious, and she pours out her story. The problem is, it’s so heart-breaking, I really didn’t know who to hate. I know who I should have hated, but it’s not always black and white, is it?
A final note to those who found it sensationalist and deliberately manipulative: Stop watching Transformers and go to see a real film occasionally. The Champ (1979) is deliberately manipulative, Precious isn’t. Some people really do have to live a version of this life for real. One of the few notes I made while watching this was: “How do you do this every single f****** day of your life?”