On the face of it, a small budget movie concerning an obese, illiterate 16-year-old young woman with a child with Down Syndrome and another child on the way - both the product of years of rape by her father - is perhaps not the subject of average feel-good cinema. Add to this the fact that the Protagonist - Claireese Precious Jones - has a psychologically abusive mother and that much of the movie is set in insalubrious areas of 1987 Harlem - and it begins to look even bleaker.
But Precious is also about transcending apparently impossible obstacles, about hope and care, friendship and opportunity.
At the beginning of the movie we learn that Black American Claireese 'Precious' Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) is living alone with her abusive mother Mary (Mo'Nique), who survives on welfare and believes Precious should do the same as she will learn nothing from books or the education system.
Precious's father is only seen from the waist down, unbuckling his belt and in the act of rape for a few seconds: this is not a film of explicit violence despite its subject matter, and lingers more (perhaps slightly too much) on Precious's fantasies of being a singing star, which is her survival mechanism. A similar process, but more intense because the physical survival element is less clear, is in Tori Amos's a cappella song of her own rape, 'A Man and a Gun' from Little Earthquakes, where she speaks of what she thought of at the time of the actual rape:
'you can laugh
it's kind of funny
things you think
times like these
like i haven't seen BARBADOS
so i must get out of this.'
Against her mother's wishes, Precious enrols in the 'Each One/Teach One' program in a special school, whose aim is to push the students through to reaching the G.E.D. (Gereral Educational Development) level necessary for them to enter high school. In the class are other members of the walking wounded similar to herself, and through her very sympathic tutor, Blue Rain (Paula Patton), Precious's interest and her writing ability improve greatly.
During a Christmas scene with Blue and her lesbian lover, the heterosexual Precious feels secure, far from the incessant round of eating, washing up, suffering abuse, and virtual non-stop television she is subjected to at home. But it is still an incomprehensible world where people have real conversations, and hang on the wall such cultural trophies as a poster for Ntozake Shange's play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf.
Precious returns home with her three-day old son Adul to receive further abuse from her mother. She escapes from her definitively, and although Precious later learns that she is HIV positive from her father who has died of Aids, the ending is surprisingly more upbeat than it could have been.