“Precious”
 
            This film started out as a novel, then was converted to a screenplay.  But it has a gritty, raw, realistic feel to it that is ‘way beyond “once upon a time.”
            Clareece “Precious” Jones (Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe) is an obese teenager in Harlem , who is pregnant with her second child.  By her father.  Her mother, Mary (Mo’Nique) sits in the drab, dark, apartment all day, watching television, smoking cigarettes, and living on her welfare check for “Precious,” whom she constantly verbally abuses.  The scene where the family dresses up for the social worker’s inspection, everybody playing nice and grandmother showing up to give the illusion of family support, is breathtakingly heartrending.  “Precious” is essentially a house slave.  She cooks and washes the dishes (nobody bothers to clean).  Her mother makes her eat huge amounts to keep her overweight, as a way of keeping her morale down about herself.  ‘Precious” has learned precious little in school.  She can’t even read at the 2nd grade level.  But she is not unaware, and not unintelligent.  She just hasn’t had any good choices to make.
            Expulsion from school (for fighting back in response to an insult from another student) results in a new opportunity.  ‘Precious” is introduced to an alternative school, where the teacher, Ms. Rain (Paula Patton), actually cares about challenging the students, and the small class size helps the students pull together, because they all realize this is their last chance to actually get an education.  But of course, it’s never easy.  The firstborn of Precious, a special-needs girl outrageously named “Mongol,” is being raised by her grandmother, but her 2nd child, Jamal, is healthy, and Precious decides that nobody is going to take him away from her.  At least, now, there is someone in her life who truly loves her.  And now she has a reason to push back.  She starts not to accept the abuse from her mother (which of course only escalates the conflict).  She’s not going to allow her father to “visit” her any more.  And, she’s going to finally open up to the social worker, Mrs. Weiss (Mariah Carey), that Ms. Rains recommended to her.
            We want so badly for Precious to learn how to break loose from all the shackles of her environment and background, but, of course, as a teenage single mother with two young children, she can’t exactly start out even.  All she has to propel her is her own developing sense of self-worth, encouraged by new friends. (Religion might have helped, but the only reference we get is her projected fantasy of one day singing in a church choir.)  Slowly, very slowly, she begins to move from wishing her life were different to doing something about making it different.  And because she is not the skinny, beautiful, idealized model-type (though she fantasizes about being that), people tend to look past her, and ignore who she is and what she needs.  She just has to learn not to do that to herself.
            The story is truly moving, and even inspiring.  The ingredients of strong script, good acting, and deft direction combine to make this film a truly emotional experience.  You’ll hate Mary, but her performance is so powerful as to be Oscar-worthy.
 
Questions For Discussion:
1)      What instances of abuse or incest have come to your attention?  Were you able to do anything about it?
2)  Do you know of people who have overcome incredible obstacles in order to make a life for themselves?  What were the ingredients for their “success”?
 
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas