'Precious'... a title that could be deceptive, for a movie that should perhaps carry an advance warning - but not in an off-putting way.

We meet Claireece 'Precious' Jones (Sidibe) as a pregnant 16-year-old living in Harlem in the 1980s. Subjected to physical, emotional and sexual abuse in her family home, for as long as she can remember, Precious accepts her lot and tries to escape from the reality of her terrifying existence by day-dreaming about a different life. A life of fame, red carpets and camera flashes - mostly just a life where she is valued and appreciated as she is.

Education is not highly-rated in the Jones household, with Precious' vicious mother Mary (Mo'Nique) lashing out at her for trying to better herself, when she could easily live off social welfare payments. Expelled because of her second pregnancy, as a result of abuse, Precious leaves her high school almost illiterate. But following a recommendation from a teacher, she tries to continue her education at an alternative school, Each One Teach One, under the tuition of Miss Rain (Patton), a teacher with an enormous heart and twice as much patience, who is committed to helping society's marginalised. There she stumbles upon the first example of what love, or even human kindness, resembles through the acceptance of her classmates and teacher.

Precious' story has too many lows to recount. Those closest to her abuse and violate her at every opportunity, with her only glimmers of hope coming from well-meaning strangers like Miss Rain, her nurse John (Kravitz) and social worker Miss Weiss (Carey putting in a convincing performance as a dowdy, worn-down welfare worker who wants to do the right thing). But it's a story worth sticking with, no matter how depressing it feels at times.

What makes this movie so special is that it is more than the sum of its extraordinary parts – more than the harrowing story inspired by Sapphire's novel 'Push', more than the heartfelt and utterly compelling performances of leads Gabourey Sidibe and Mo'Nique or even the message at its core. Often even one of these elements would be strong enough to carry the movie but together they gel to create something really special. It's the kind of movie that opens your eyes by almost making you want to close them, that teaches you without preaching and that sticks in your heart and mind because of its desperate reality.

There are many things to recommend 'Precious', like the aforementioned outstanding performances and its ability to pull at the heartstrings without being sentimental. But, importantly for a movie of this type, it is not without humour. A wonderfully-written script, with brilliant delivery from Sidibe through narration, keeps a spark in this film at its lowest points.

'Precious' isn't just grim. It sees grim and 'raises' it, by a considerable amount, but you won't regret your time spent on it. Go see this movie on a day when you need a reminder about appreciating your own life.

Linda McGee