6 Oscar nominations.
Cameos from Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz.
Production credit for Oprah Winfrey.
It would be easy to allow yourself to get caught up in the hype surrounding "Precious" in much the same way that people did with something like, oh lets just say, "Titanic" and confuse "buzz" with quality.
In the case of this film though there is something more substantial at play than a CGI boat and Kate Winslets breasts. Here we have moving and disturbing drama that will leave you feeling shocked, uncomfortable and more than a little worried.
"Precious" is a teenage girl living in Harlem in 1987 with her abusive mother (played by Mo'Nique more of whom later). Struggling with the basics like reading and writing Precious spends most of her time at school daydreaming of a more glamorous life. She has a baby with Downs Syndrome who she, without any vindictiveness, calls "Mongol". She is also pregnant again. The father of both children is her own father a fact that her mother feels is a source of great shame...for Precious who she declares has stolen her man from her. Into this world of pain, abuse, heartache and misery comes hope in the form of an alternative education programme and the bizarrely named teacher "Blue" who offers Precious the chance of a better life.
That's all there is by way of plot...it's an old story and one we've seen on the big screen before in various forms but here the tale is told with a realism and emotion that, at times, leaves you feeling uneasy, awkward, ashamed and frightened. Mo'Nique (better known in the US as a comedienne) delivers several of the moments that contribute to those feelings; her performance as the violent, lazy, bitter and twisted mother is chilling; at one point she delivers a tirade of abuse and threats towards Precious that is utterly vile before delivering a beating to her.
Perhaps the most horrific moment comes when Precious returns to visit her mother after the birth of her second child. When her mother asks to hold the baby everyone in the cinema took in an audible breath and held it as we waited for something terrible to happen. What happened next was terrible and, for me, was the most devastating moment in the film.
There are moments of colour and joy in "Precious" but they are primarily to be found in the fantasies that Precious escapes to when life is becoming too much to bare. Filled with colour these are the only times that Precious really appears happy and that in itself is a source of discomfort for the viewer.
Gabourey Sidibe plays Precious and gives a performance that is worth the Oscar nomination and when one takes a look at the other nominees it seems, to me, that her performance is the most worthy of the golden statue...but I think that Sandra Bullock is the favourite for her performance in "The Blind Side" which hasn't been released here in the UK so I can't really make any comment. Sidibe is completely believable, I never doubted for a second that she was "Precious" or that what I was seeing on screen was anything other than real and that, surely, is the mark of a great performance.
Don't believe the hype. Go and see this for yourself and create your own hype. It won't make you feel happy but it will make you feel.