The movies starts off with a picture of a red scarf hanging off a street lamp and then flying through the air.
Harlem, 1987. Clarice Precious Jones (Gabourey Sildibe) is in a math class, daydreaming. She is wearing a red scarf. Much of the film is in first-person narration. She narrates, My name is Clarice Precious Jones. I want to be on the cover of a magazine. I wish I had a light-skinned boyfriend with good hair. But first I want to be in one of those BET videos, and we see a fantasy sequence of her dressed in a photo-shoot, accompanied with a light-skinned boyfriend (who will be in all her future movie sequences.) She also says I 'm gonna break through, someone is going to break through to me, ima be normal and sit in the front of the class.
She has a crush on the math teacher Mr. Wicher (Bill Sage). She narrates that she likes math. The class is rowdy and when a student responds to Mr. Wicher with cuss word, Precious slaps that student and says to Mr. Wicher, I got your back. She narrates that she and Mr. Wicher will move away and live together in Westchester. A student comes in with a note saying that the principal wants to see Precious.
In the principals office, the principal, Mrs. Lichtenstein asks if Precious is pregnant again and how could this happen. The principal lays out the facts for Precious: shes 16, pregnant again, and attends junior high. The principal wants to move Precious to an alternative school. The principal asks the mom to come to a meeting but when Precious protests, Mrs. Lichtenstein says that she can visit her mom.
Precious is at home washing dishes when her mom, Mary, (MoNique) who is unemployed and watches $10,000 Pyramid all day, asks Precious if she is going to start cooking. Mary then throws a heavy pan at Precious and knocks her out. Cut to a flashback of Precious's father raping her. Then we enter Precious's fantasy world where she goes to feel safe when she is overwhelmed by the horror around her. In this fantasy sequence she is attending a movie premiere, dressed in red, when it starts to rain. The rain is actually her mother, Mary (MoNique), throwing water on Precious's face to rouse Precious from the floor.
Precious is cooking dinner when the doorbell buzzes (they live in a typical run-down New York tenement building- although it is not typical for apartments to have two floors). It is Mrs. Lichtenstein, who wants to talk to mom. Precious tells her off, but Mrs. Lichtenstein stays on the intercom to tell Precious about the alternative school, Each One, Teach One. After the principal leaves, Mary becomes extremely upset and verbally abuses Precious, blaming her for bringing the white b*tch to her house, in that having any visitors snooping around might jeopardize the welfare check payment. (Mary is scamming the system). Mary continues: she blames Precious for stealing her man, saying that school is of no use for Precious, that Precious is fat and undesirable, and that she should have aborted Precious. Mary then rushes to beat Precious.
At night Precious looks at a photo album to console herself. The photos talk to her (more fantasy). In the morning, before Precious leaves the house, she adjusts herself in the mirror but sees herself in the reflection as a white blond girl. (For you psychology buffs out there- it seems that Precious may suffer from a dissociative disorder- which would not be surprising given the level of abuse she has endured). Precious goes to Each One, Teach One, where the receptionist, who Precious refers to as Cornrows (Sherri Shepard), gives her a placement test. It is clear that Precious is illiterate by the way she takes the test and narrates that tests paint pictures of me with no brain. On her way back, a group of thugs sexually harass her and then one pushes her down when she doesn't respond. Cut to a fantasy sequence of her dancing in an Apollo-like stage and her boyfriend licking her ear, but it is really a dog licking her ear while she is down on the ground. She returns to her building and runs into a little girl, Ruby, who pesters her.
It is another day and Precious needs money for food before leaving house. But mom is too busy in bed, pleasuring herself, but asks Precious to come up and take care of her. She says, I wish she would stop that shit - meaning the sexual abuse. Afterward Precious goes to a fried-chicken shop and orders a bucket of chicken, but runs off with it without paying. She eats the whole bucket on the way to school and then throws up (perhaps showing a habit of binge-eating or maybe it is because she is pregnant).
At the alternative school, the teacher, Ms. Blue Rain (Paula Patton), calls Precious to class and tells the class the purpose of the school is to prepare them for the GED. We are introduced to five other students. She asks each student to write and say their name, favorite color, talent, and why they are in the alternative class. The students say their items, but when its Precious's turn she asks to be skipped. Ms. Rains goes on teaching but Precious speaks up. Precious is scared, says that she is not good at anything, to which Mrs. Rain replies that everyone is good at something. Precious says that her favorite color is yellow and that she can cook and that she has never really talked in class before. Ms. Rain asks her how that makes her feel, and she replies it makes me feel here. (no need for fantasy/dissociation) Ms. Rain gives the class a journal and tells them to write anything they are feeling. Precious narrates that she has gotten As in English without having to do anything.
It is another day in the alternative classroom and Ms. Rain calls some students up to write the alphabets. Precious volunteers to write the letter f but after that a student says, F for fat, (Precious is around 300 pounds), which results in a fight. Precious stays after class because of the fight, and Ms. Rain asks Precious to read a page of children's book. Precious struggles to put together the word day, cut to flashback of Mary calling Precious a dumb b*itch.
Precious returns home to find her mom pissed off because Precious went to the alternative school, and missed the regular school, which would cut into the welfare checks. Mary berates Precious, saying that She cant learn sh*t, that Precious should better get her ass to welfare to start getting welfare. Mary demands that Precious cook for her. Precious cooks a seemingly good meal of pigs feet and accompaniments but Mary explodes when she doesn't see collard greens as a dish, saying who can eat pigs feet without collard greens. Mary forces Precious to eat the meal, explaining that since Precious f*cked up the meal, she has to eat it, even though Precious isn't hungry. Precious eats the food in front of mom and breaks into a fantasy of being in an old Italian movie with Sophia Loren in it (since that is what Mary was watching at the time).
Precious is at the welfare office (a regular check-in is required) talking to a social worker Mrs. Weiss (an almost unrecognizable Mariah Carey without makeup). Mrs. Weiss asks Precious about her home life, and about the firstborn, who Precious named Mongo (short for Mongoloid, because the baby has Down syndrome). Flashback to grandma handing the baby to Mary (grandma has been taking care of the baby), Mary putting on a wig to soften her appearance and changing to a soft tone, and conning the social worker who came to check up on them. (Mary claims that she loves and takes care of her grandchild, and is also diligently looking for a job. After the social worker left, Mary says, Get that MotherF#$%er off me (talking about the baby).
Cut back to Precious talking to Ms. Weiss. Precious slips that her gave her this baby and the one before. Mrs. Weiss presses Precious, who at first tries to spin it away, but then relents to tell the truth: that she delivered the first baby on the kitchen floor while her mother was kicking her in the head. Precious is relieved that she doesn't have to lie anymore, but knows that her mother is going to be furious- because her telling the truth is going to stop the checks from coming.
The alternative school is having a good effect on Precious. On a class trip to the museum, Precious realizes that she wants to teach her babies, and that she will keep the undelivered baby.
In class, the students are reading their journal entries about fairy-tales. Precious goes to the front of class to read, but she goes into labor. She is rushed to the hospital. After delivering the newborn (named Abdul Jamal Jones), the students visit Precious. The students kid with Precious's male nurse, John McFadden (Lenny Kravitz), making fun that he is a male nurse. John tells the students how McDonald's is bad and fattening while eating his fruit cups. He leaves with a kiss to Precious's forehead. Precious corresponds with Ms. Rain using the journal which a student ferries back and forth. Ms. Rain asks Precious if she plans to keep the baby. Precious writes yes, and Ms. Rains tells Precious that her responsibility is to take care of herself, and that her learning to read and write is everything.
It is around Christmas, and John gives Precious a card with a twenty-dollar bill in it when Precious is discharged. She brings Abdul home and runs into the little girl (Ruby) who pesters her. Mary is not happy she asks where Precious has been but also asks to hold the baby. Cooing at first, she throws the baby down and throws a glass at Precious. Precious has ruined her life, she claims, when Precious revealed the truth and welfare cut off the checks. She also asks Precious, does she think she is better because the father gave her instead of Mary a baby. Precious grabs the baby and runs out of the apartment, falling down the flight of stairs and avoiding a TV dropped down by Mary, but protecting the baby. Precious is upset and as she leaves she runs into Ruby, the little girl who continues to pester. She responds by slamming her into a wall as she tries to get by her and leave.
Precious walks out in the streets, where it is snowing. She sees a church and looks into the window and sees a church choir practicing, which leads to a fantasy sequence of her in a gospel choir. The next day, Ms. Rain and Cornrows arrived at the school building but sees that it has been broken into. Ms. Rains finds the baby Abdul with Precious, who feels sorry that Ms. Rain is now pressed into the role of a social worker. While Ms. Rains is working the phones to find a place for Precious to stay, one of the students is teaching the class (funny scene).
She finally finds a halfway house for Precious and Abdul, but Precious first spends overnight with Ms. Rain. Precious meets Ms. Rains live-in female partner. (Precious: Oh my God, shes a straight-up lesbian!) They are both warm toward Precious, even giving her a Christmas present. This scene is significant because its the first time she's treated like an adult, and engaging in an "adult conversation" with Ms. Rain and her partner. Even though the two of them are more intellectual and use big words and analogies in their conversation, they kindly respond when Precious brings up McDonalds or Oprah. Ms. Rain's partner is trying to write a book. Ms. Rain mentions that Precious writes everyday, and Precious says she writes about her life and Abdul.
At the halfway house, Precious grows. She says that its a halfway house because it is halfway between the old and new life. There, she gets stipends and received an award for literacy (maybe most improved?). There is a party for her where John is invited. John finds Ms. Rains attractive but Precious takes John to introduce her to Cornrow. Cornrow is on the phone arguing with her boyfriend but hangs up when she sees John. (A lot of scenes earlier show Cornrow arguing on phone with her boyfriend). One day Precious gets an unexpected visitor. Its Mary, bearing news that Precious's father has died of AIDS. Precious asks if Mary is HIV positive but Mary says no since they never had anal sex. Precious urges Mary to get tested, then leaves the building.
In class, everyone is writing in the journals except for Precious. Ms. Rains presses Precious who tearfully reveals that shes HIV positive (but not Abdul -- an earlier scene shows her going to a clinic) from her father raping her. Ms. Rain, in tears, urges Precious to write for all those who love her. Precious declares that nobody loves her. Ms. Rains says, but people do love you. Precious responds, "don't lie to me, love aint ever done anything for me, it beats me down." But Ms. Rains responds, "The babies love you, I love you."
Cut to welfare office, where Precious is kidding with Mrs. Weiss, at one point asking her what race she is (inside joke for Mariah Carey?). In this scene Precious reports that she see's vampires in her room at night who leave through the floor to go to the people down stairs. (not sure if she is actually hallucinating- or just pulling Ms. Weiss's leg) Mrs. Weiss reveals that Mary wants to be reunited with Precious.
Cut to the class where Ms. Rains asks what each students dreams are. Precious says that she wants to work and take care of the babies, and reveals that she knows that the welfare center will set up work for her. (She had swiped her file from the welfare center in the earlier scene.)
At the welfare center, Precious is sitting and waiting next to the little girl who had pestered Precious and is now sporting a black eye (she obviously is abused at home too). Precious takes out her red scarf from her purse and wraps it around Ruby, making her smile. Precious meets Mary and Mrs. Weiss in a cubicle. Mrs. Weiss wants to know about the abuses. At first Mary displays mock outrage saying that Precious knows better than to have drugs in the house, but Mrs. Weiss says, not that kind of abuse, the physical and sexual abuse. Tearfully Mary lets out that when she was making love with her boyfriend Carl (Preciouss father), Precious (aged 3) was asleep next to them, and the boyfriend would molest and have sex with Precious. Mrs. Weiss asks, how she can let the boyfriend continue to molest and have sex with the three year old. Mary says that how else would she get Carl to love her, to keep Carl from leaving. Marys crying that she feels alone and that Precious stole the Carl's love for Mary and that's why she is hateful toward Precious. She stops crying briefly, while Ms. Weiss sits there looking horrified and Precious sits calmly, her face unreadable. Mary says she was told Precious was writing poems, doing well, then brings in Mongo and says she wants them to be a family. But Precious says no. She explains that on a recent test, she has progressed from a reading score of 2.8 to 7.8, meaning she is reading at near eighth-grade level, that she'll go on to high school and then college. Precious takes baby Mongo and leaves, saying that Ms. Weiss cant "handle me, and you can't handle this". She says that Mary "cant have my baby", and is "not gonna see me no more".
Mary pleads with Ms. Weiss to get Precious to come back to her. If there was any doubt before, this scene really shows how mentally ill Mary is. Ms. Weiss responds with understandable horror.
The last scene is of Precious walking down the street, carrying Abdul and holding Mongo's hands, showing strength and a possible good beginning for her own little family inspite of her struggles.