Sensitive in so many ways, Precious is a movie that is difficult for any reviewer to tackle—especially a white guy living in Western Canada. I can’t help but feel there are cultural cues embedded deep within this film that would be interpreted completely differently depending on the viewer’s background, culture and environment.
Having said that, one thing is for certain: This film is not at all appropriate for children. Even teens and adults, who have experienced anything like the sexual and mental trauma portrayed on the screen, may have a difficult time making it through to the closing credits. Yet the movie’s central character does demonstrate that, even in the most difficult of circumstances, a person can choose to improve themselves and their situation. And it is this small sliver of hope that may make Precious’ worth your time and emotional energy.
The movie’s title is the name of a 16-year-old black girl living in late 1980s Harlem with her highly abusive mother Mary (Mo’Nique). Hit by frying pans and other objects, Precious attends to her demanding parent’s needs, including a vague insinuation of sexual services. Meanwhile, the teen is pregnant with her second child—both of which were conceived after she was raped by her father.
With fantasizing being her only escape, Precious’s world appears to be as bleak as anyone can imagine, until her school principal intervenes and assigns her to an alternative institution. There she meets Ms. Rain (Paula Patton), a determined woman who works with a small group of mostly illiterate students. For the first time, Precious begins to see some possibility of a new life. However, to continue with her education she must also meet with Mrs. Weiss (Mariah Carey), a social worker determined to discover what is really happening in the girl’s home. Knowing her mother will lose her welfare checks if she reveals the truth, Precious is torn between Mary’s wrath or finally standing up for her own life.
Ms. Rain and her lesbian partner offer support to the beleaguered youth, along with other members of her newfound community, creating the first somewhat positive environment this child has ever experienced. Still, even with that tiny ray of light shining at the end of her miserable life’s tunnel, this movie demands more than just a box office price from its viewers. Questionable as to whether audience members will leave feeling empowered, overwhelmed, optimistic, discouraged or just simply exhausted, this movie’s mature subject matter should be seriously considered before settling down in front of the screen.