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Precious -- Film Review

Benjamin Walker
Jason Kempin/Getty Images
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Note: The previous title of this film was "Push."

PARK CITY -- "Precious" has no bounds. It's a disturbing, overwhelming story of one Harlem girl's merciless degradations. An overwhelming, masterful dramatic competition entrant, this Lee Daniels film may have no bounds in the awards categories here at Sundance. It would not be surprising to see "Precious" pull in both the Audience Award and Jury Award.

It's a hard-forged film with a story line so grim and abhorrent -- a 16-year-old black 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 also 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 Blu Rain's feisty prodding, Precious slogs toward her GED.

Precious sustains herself through intermittent fantasies. She envisions herself as the worshipful object of mass media's most vapid idealizations: a red-carpet superstar and, most shockingly, a blonde-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. Director Lee Daniels sagely navigates the story from Precious' cavernous inner world through her synaptic flashes of fantasy that momentarily allow her to transcend her personal hell.

As Precious, 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.

In a striking non-star turn, Mariah Carey is credible as a veteran social worker who is jarred by Precious' plight. As the effervescent school teacher, Paula Patton exudes goodness but sagely reveals her character's inner liabilities, while Lenny Kravitz is low-key perfect as an empathetic nurse's aide.

Under Lee Daniels' radiant hand, technical contributions are magnificently forged. Highest praise to cinematographer Andrew Dunn for the gothic compositions and editor Joe Klotz for the kinetic cuts.

Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Lee Daniels Entertainment and Smokehouse Entertainment
Cast: Gabourey Sidibe, Paula Patton, Mo'Nique, Mariah Carey, Sherri Shepherd, Lenny Kravitz
Director: Lee Daniels
Screenwriter: Damien Paul ased on a novel by Sapphire
Producers: Lee Daniels, Sarah Siegel-Magness, Gary Magness
Executive producers: Lisa Cortes, Tom Heller
Director of photography: Andrew Dunn
Music: Mario Grigorov
Costume designer: Marina Draghici
Editor: Joe Klotz
No Rating, 109 minutes