'Push'

Empty

"Push" has no bounds. It's a disturbing, overwhelming story of one Harlem girl's merciless degradations. It was no surprise to see Lee Daniels' masterful film pull in both the Audience Award and Grand Jury Award at Sundance.

It's a hard-forged film with a story line so grim and abhorrent — a 16-year-old girl has been impregnated twice by her father — that marketing will be tough. However, the film's crystalline performances, including a bravura performance from Mo'Nique, should propel word of mouth. Solid supporting turns from Mariah Carey, Paula Patton and Lenny Kravitz will help commercially.

In this inner-city horror story, newcomer Gabourey Sidibe plays Clarice, a pathetic ghetto girl enduring more personal plagues than Job. Called Precious, she's illiterate, overweight and emotionally abused by her deadbeat mother (Mo'Nique). Slow in school, Precious wallows in junior high at 16 and is shuffled through the system to a "special" program.

Shoving her boxcar frame into the bleak makeshift classroom, Precious confronts the first ray of help in her life, a charismatic teacher called Blu Rain (Paula Patton). With her feisty prodding, Precious slogs toward her GED.

Precious sustains herself through intermittent fantasies. The black teen envisions herself as the worshipful object of mass media's most vapid idealizations: a red-carpet superstar and, most shockingly, a blond-haired/blue-eyed white beauty queen. That weird warp is darkly ironic; from the outside it seems the ultimate degradation to Precious. Yet, those oddly inspired flights are the sole windows of self-esteem and sustenance for this degraded girl.

Damien Paul's edgy and effervescent screenplay propels us into the inner recesses of primitive survival. It's a magnificent distillation, both succinct and eruptive.

Sidibe is superb, allowing us to see the inner warmth and beauty of a young woman who, to her world's cruel eyes, might seem monstrous. As Precious' hideous mother, Mo'Nique is cruelty incarnate. It's an astonishingly powerful performance. (partialdiff)
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