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Precious

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of two sociopaths. Her father began sexually abusing her when she was 3, and got her pregnant at 14. The resultant child, nicknamed Mongo "? as in "mongoloid" "? has Down's syndrome.

As the film opens, Clarice Precious Jones (newcomer Gabourey Sidibe) has been raped by her father again and is once again pregnant. Precious can barely read. She lives with her mother, Mary (Mo'Nique, "Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins"), a bitter woman who hates her because the father prefers Precious as a bed partner. To top it all off, Precious is morbidly obese, ugly and although she has some ability at math, she's generally not too bright.

She's a prime candidate for turning into her mother, spending her days watching game shows on TV and existing from one welfare check to the next. Her grandmother is some help, but the older woman is afraid of Mary and so is cautious when it comes to taking Precious' side.

ALTERNATIVES
Kicked out of school because of her pregnancy, Precious takes her principal's advice and transfers to an alternative school for troubled kids. There, she meets the understanding teacher she needs in Ms. Rain (Paula Patton, "Mirrors") "? a de rigueur character in this kind of movie "? who does what she can to help when Mary finally boots Precious out.

Others who come to her emotional aid are her welfare case worker, Mrs. Weiss (singer Mariah Carey), and the male nurse who assists in her delivery, Nurse John (musician Lenny Kravitz). It's to the credit of the two pop performers, both of whom give outstanding performances, that despite what their characters say, we're never completely sure if they stand by Precious out of affection or pity.

Mary has force-fed her daughter a combination of self-pity, self-loathing and anger "? a combustible goulash that's hellish to swallow. The only relief that comes to the poor girl is when she finds out the depths of her mother's depravity and strikes out on her own "? with a sixth-grade reading level, no high school diploma and two kids, one of whom is special needs.

And there's more, but why spoil the misery?

After seeing Mo'Nique in "Phat Girlz" a few years ago, I wrote her off as an exhibitionist and not an actress. Either I've gotten smarter or she's been taking acting lessons "? probably the latter. Mary is something of a one-trick pony, all deep-dyed spite and hatefulness, but that's the character as written by freshman screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher. She has one moment that arouses our pity, when she tells Precious and Mrs. Weiss about the profundity of her man's sickness, but since it reflects her own cowardice, we can no more forgive her than Precious can.

Directed by Lee Daniels ("Shadowboxer"), "Precious" is a horror story in the true sense of that word. Here for Thanksgiving, it's a movie that makes us grateful it isn't about us.

"?Doug Bentin

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