Grim Precious treasures passionate actresses (1)

Though only 17 years old, Clareece “Precious” Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) suffers enough misfortunes for several Greek tragedies remounted in 1987 Harlem. Precious’ title character endures obesity, illiteracy, a baby with Down syndrome and a sociopathically hostile, selfish mother (Mo’Nique) — and those are just the preliminaries. When Precious gets warmed up, it becomes almost unbearably grim, but its passionate performances raise it above contemporary motivational melodrama clichés.

Though she can barely read, Precious exhibits a talent for math. When she becomes pregnant for the second time, a kindly teacher secures Precious a chance to enroll in an alternative school called Each One, Teach One. Under the tough but kindly tutelage of crusading Ms. Rain (Paula Patton), Precious bonds with her boisterous female classmates and begins to respect herself.

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(Photo Courtesy Lionsgate)