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Daring to hope

Movies | Precious shows the heroism of overcoming a brutal life

Issue: "2009 Daniel of the Year," Dec. 19, 2009

Heroism is a big word. It may be disarming an IED in Iraq or facing a disease with dignity; perhaps calmly landing a failing aircraft or sending water and medicine to Africa. Heroism is not often defined as simply showing up for school, but after watching Precious: Based on the Novel by Sapphire, it needs to be added to the list.

Precious (Gabourey Sidibe) lacks all winsome and charismatic qualities that would make anyone notice her. She's obese, unattractive, painfully quiet, and unengaging. At 16, she is completely illiterate and pregnant with her second child. It's just another case of a future welfare mama in the ghetto.

There's more to the story than one would suppose, brutally more. The father of Precious' children is her own father. Her mother Mary, brilliantly played with unrestrained ugliness by Mo'Nique, tells Precious she's ugly and stupid and reinforces the message with physical violence. She wants her daughter to forget school and get more welfare.

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When she's being abused, Precious escapes into fantasies of fame and fortune, a world where she's somebody. Despite a lifetime of being raped, belittled, and beaten, Precious hasn't given up the desire for something better, something she couldn't even articulate except that she wants to live where the white people live. She dares to hope.

When Precious shows up at the alternative school, overcoming her mother's violent protests and her own crippling shyness, she demonstrates unimaginable bravery. As she continues, pushing her way through what many of us consider the basic ABCs of life, she shows more strength than many of us will ever muster.

The film (rated R for child abuse including sexual assault, and pervasive language) is hard to watch. It's an ugly world, shown in all its violent, foul-mouthed, disgusting realness. However, by the end the viewer sees beauty in the young woman who seemed such a hopeless case.

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