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Precious a hard and worthy effort 

This year's Slumdog Millionaire, but with guts.

This year's steam-gathering Oscar contender has the grit and guts Slumdog Millionaire lacked---there are no free-falls into shitholes, because you're already in one. Precious Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) is a functionally illiterate Harlem teen pregnant with her father's second child. Her mother (Mo'Nique) is an emotionally and physically abusive terror collecting welfare on Precious and her child. A vice-principal sees that Precious wants to learn despite an environment that discourages it, and points her to an alternative school run by Blu Rain (Paula Patton), who stands in as an aspirational and a mother figure. Director Lee Daniels' first film was the artless Shadowboxer, so his restraint in telling this impossibly bleak story is admirable, and his biggest success is the exquisite casting---small but effective performances from Sherri Shepherd, Lenny Kravitz and Mariah Carey balance Mo'Nique's screen-sucking fervour, and Sidibe's blank face hides a gentle but tenacious soul. Precious is a hard but worthy journey.

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