Last night I watched what was probably the most depressing movie I've seen since Requiem for a Dream (which was depressing because the Jennifer Connolley scenes weren't longer). "Precious" is about a sixteen-year-old African American girl, played by newcomer Gabourey Sidibe, growing up in Harlem in 1987. Every time you think "Wow, this girl has the worst life ever", the plot adds something else to show you how it could, in fact, be worse. First the obvious: she looks dangerously obese (supported by her eating habits of fried chicken and pigs feet). Then you meet her mother, who beats her until she's unconscious. And then you learn this sixteen-year-old is not only pregnant, but has another baby already - with Down Syndrome. Oh, and both times she got pregnant due to being raped. By her father. The downward spiral doesn't end there, but I'll keep from spoiling most of it.
The movie shows some hope for Precious. This illiterate, pregnant teenager is invited to attend an alternative school where we meet several other "down on their luck" teenagers and the inspiring teacher Blu Rain. Ms. Rain pushes Precious into not giving up on her future, and is relentless in getting Precious to write every day and strive for her GED. Ms. Rain is clearly the first person to ever show such an active interest in helping Precious succeed. At one point, Precious reflects on how strange it is for this person to care so much more for her than her own mother and father ever did. What Ms. Rain, the social worker Mrs. Weiss, and to a lesser extent the other teens in the class are all helping Precious achieve is her freedom: from her abusive parents, the cycle of illiteracy and poverty that she is stuck in, and from not being able to care for or provide for her own children. I'm sure stories like this aren't far from reality for a lot of people, unfortunately, both in 1987 Harlem and today, but I'll leave the politics of our Education and Welfare systems out of this review (and save it for a future rant, perhaps).
While the movie leaves you hanging on to what will happen with Precious and her children, I will spoil the fact that it doesn't end with her frozen dead in a ditch after her children are taken away by social services, which would have made it the saddest movie ever. So, you've got that to look forward to. And just like cutting onions and the end of Homeward Bound or The Iron Giant, I think it's perfectly acceptable for anyone to cry at least once during this tear jerker.
The cast was somewhat surprising, but the acting held up very well: Mo'Nique, Lenny Kravitz, and if it didn't say Mariah Carey in the credits, I don't think I would have known the plain Jane no makeup social worker Mrs. Weiss was her.
Overall I'd give this a 4/5, using the modified Martums rating scale:Where:
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