This movie has arrived heralded by voices of acclaim, not raised in celebration but weirdly lowered: hushed in awe, correctness and respect, as if in entering a shrine or a sickroom or the intensive care unit of a maternity ward. At last year's Cannes film festival, some pundits were literally unable to pronounce its title without dropping into a timid and faintly contrite sort of semi-murmur. I strolled up to a group of them after the premiere and breezily remarked that it was "powerful stuff". It was like going into the stable at Bethlehem, lighting up a fag, clapping one of the kneeling Wise Men on the back and saying that the Christ child seems like a pretty nice little chap.
Set in 1987, and based on the novel Push by the Harlem poet and author Sapphire, it is about an obese, taciturn African-American teenager called Precious, who has had two babies, the result of being repeatedly raped by her father. One of these children has Down's syndrome, and Precious calls him Mongo, short for "Mongoloid" - that discredited term Precious uncomprehendingly overheard and liked.
Her mother Mary, the rapist's partner, takes out her self-hate in repeated spasms of grotesquely jealous rage against Precious, routinely subjecting her to violent assaults and screaming abuse.
Even when Precious begins to overcome this abuse through special educational classes - in which she has been enrolled by a sharp-eyed teacher who has spotted her talent for mathematics - and even found a measure of articulacy through burgeoning happiness and self-esteem, she receives news of a terrible new burden of woe in the movie's final act.
Undoubtedly, the heartfelt lead performance from newcomer Gabourey Sidibe is a powerful spectacle. Her mother is well played by the comedian Mo'Nique, who creates a monster of cruelty and sadism, and has ...