A Precious film that will make you laugh and cry

PUBLISHED: 15:20 04 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:44 07 September 2010

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (15) Director Lee Daniels Starring Gabourey Sidibe, Mo nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Sherri Shepherd, Lenny Kravitz. 109 mins THREE STAR RATING Sometimes a film will come along that no matter how much

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (15)

Director Lee Daniels

Starring Gabourey Sidibe, Mo'nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Sherri Shepherd, Lenny Kravitz. 109 mins

THREE STAR RATING

Sometimes a film will come along that no matter how much you hear about it beforehand, you just can't get a handle on it. Here we have a film with an unwieldy title, a title character who is a morbidly obese teenager, that is set in Harlem in the late eighties, includes incest and hideous parental abuse and has Lenny Kravitz as a nurse and Mariah Carey as a social worker. What is that going to be like?

Precious is a movie that sometimes seems to be to be channel hopping between two or three radically different films. One minute it's rubbing your face harder and further into the dirt than you could imagine a film would ever want to; the next it's holding you close and gently soft soaping you with human kindness.

The lows are just unbelievably squalid. Precious (Sidibe) is expelled from school after she becomes pregnant by her father for a second time. Her mother's (Mo'nique) chosen form of communication is throwing heavy objects in the direction of her head whenever she is displeased.

But her expulsion opens up the opportunity for her to go to an alternative school, so alongside the Boy Called It style horrorography there's a straightforward inspirational teacher story. And it's all filmed like a version of Requiem for a Dream made by Oprah Winfrey. Confused? You may well be.

The film flings the viewer about this way and that but the strong cast keep you strapped in. Mo'nique makes an almost preposterous figure credible and comprehensible, while the two pieces of novelty casting work out pretty well too. Kravitz is charmingly unaffected and unrecognisable. Mariah takes the standard pop star-trying-to-be-taken-seriously-route, eschewing make up and dressing down. I thought the little moustache was taking it a bit too far but in a small but important role, originally due to be played by Helen Mirren, she is solid.

Precious has many traits of the saccharine little indie Oscar Pleader but with its emotional and violent excesses there is also a darkly comic edge to it, like a dramatisation of the Monty Python, "You think you had it tough" sketch. It's a film that will provoke all kinds of responses, that will probably narrow as many minds as it broadens, inspire derision as well as floods of tears.

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