Maria Carey stars as a social worker in Precious

Mariah Carey might not spring to mind as someone who might convincingly play a social worker, but that is what she has just done in the movie Precious, writes Camilla Pemberton

The US film Precious, the hard-hitting story of a 16-year-old girl who lives with her abusive mother and is pregnant for the second time by her absent father, opens in the UK on January 29 (2010). Critically acclaimed and tipped for Oscars it features superstar vocalist Mariah Carey as a social worker (pictured) in one of the highest profile depcitions of social work on screen in decades.

What’s it about?

The story is based on the novel Push by Sapphire and chronicles the journey of Precious Jones, an obese black teenager in 1980s Harlem who is bullied at school, tormented by her mother and repeatedly raped by her stepfather. Through it all Precious takes comfort in fantasies of a better life. Finally she goes to a new experimental school where she learns to read and discovers her talents at writing and maths. Through this she finds a way out of the cycle of domestic violence.

How precious ‘made it big’

Director Lee Daniels has said he never thought the movie would have much success and never expected it to make it into cinemas at all. The fortunes of the film changed when Oprah Winfrey saw it, loved it and signed on as an executive producer. Her role in publicising it has helped generate its Oscar buzz

The role of social worker Mrs Weiss was originally going to be played by Helen Mirren, but when she dropped out at the last minute, Carey stepped in. The singing star has described how she had to “de-glamourise” for the role. However, she also claims she was able to tap into her own experiences for her performance. “When people say, ‘I didn’t know she had it in her,’ they don’t know my life,” Carey told the Los Angeles Times. “They don’t know my childhood and what I went through except for a very basic story because I don’t choose to tell the world.”

Comedienne and actress Mo’Nique, who has just won a Golden Globe for her performance as the mother of Precious, Mary Jones, says the role helped her forgive her own brother who molested her as a child. “Understanding Mary Jones in her sickness really made me understand my brother in his sickness. Not all molesters are bad people. We want to make them these monsters. It’s a sickness and if we address it as a sickness and try to get help, so many of us wouldn’t have a story to tell,” she told People magazine.

Views from our screening

In December, Community Care readers were offered the chance to attend an exclusive advance screening of the film.

Social worker Penny Dalrymple was impressed, describing the film as “engrossing” but also “disturbing”. She wrote: “On two occasions I myself, who doesn’t get scared even at the most scary of movies, winced, squirmed and recoiled a bit from what I had seen and heard. The storyline was good and Mariah Carey’s look suited the part. It was nice to see she was as plain and ordinary as the rest of us minus her cosmetics – it’s amazing what make-up can do!

“She played her small role well but I wasn’t totally convinced or able to take ‘her’ seriously enough in the role – she is blessed with those wonderful high cheekbones which, to me, always gave the impression of her trying not to smile.”

Community Care‘s content editor Ruth Smith suggested Carey’s role did not portray social workers in a positive light. “Mariah Carey only made brief appearances and failed to probe beneath the service. She didn’t even ask basic questions such as ‘who is the dad?’ Nor, when Precious finally did disclose the abuse, did she appear to take any action.”

What the critics thought

Time: “The movie has the kind of authenticity and ugly immediacy that make the tears of a viewer sitting in the dark safety of a movie theater seem a little silly – indulgent even.”

Empire: “It gets under the skin so well that seasoned journalists in a packed screening room cried out in unison at one cruelty after another. Seldom has one been so relieved by an uplifting outcome.”

Rolling Stone: “Sorry, haters, Precious is an emotional powerhouse, a triumph of bruising humor and bracing hope that deserves its place among the year’s best films.”

Hollywood Reporter: “In a striking non-star turn, Mariah Carey is credible as a veteran social worker who is jarred by Precious’ plight.”

To see a trailer of the film or add your own review

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