Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire

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Starring Gabourey Sidibe, Mo'Nique, and Mariah Carey. Rated 14A. Opens Friday, November 27, at the Cinemark Tinseltown and the Fifth Avenue Cinemas

There's some audaciously crazy-ass guts behind the film Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire, and that's not counting its perversely unwieldy title. Next to the pubescent wizards and vampires mooning and swooning on-screen these days, the obese, abused black teenager in inner-city hell here—with her second child about to pop out and her mother flinging frying pans at her head—might feel just a tad disconcerting, like getting on the wrong subway.


Watch the trailer for Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire.

“You're a dummy. Don't nobody want you,” mother Mary tells the 16-year-old daughter she named Claireece Jones. Played with swaggering brutality by comedian-actor Mo'Nique, Mary isn't a woman to whom you'd point out the irony of her child's nickname, Precious. Trapped in squalor with this she-monster in 1987 Harlem, the illiterate Precious (Gabourey Sidibe), whose pregnancies were the result of rape by her otherwise AWOL father, could use some help. Her daydreams of music-video stardom—seen in flamboyant fantasy sequences that could go so wrong but somehow work, largely due to Sidibe's go-for-it playfulness—aren't going to cut it.

Landing in an alternative school, Precious catches the attention of a caring teacher (an affectingly empathetic Paula Patton) and there's a glimmer of daylight in this near-gothic nightmare. Among the film's curious but inspired casting choices, rocker Lenny Kravitz turns up as a sweet hospital nurse and Mariah Carey, unrecognizably dowdy with a Bronx-and-cigarettes accent, is dead-on as a perceptive welfare worker.

Despite moments of levity, director Lee Daniels and screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher, who adapted the source novel, aren't guys who shrink from jaw-droppingly harrowing stuff visited upon a child, even a really large child. But Daniels's kamikaze style succeeds with help from some pretty fearless performers, including poised newcomer Sidibe. It's a deeply heart-busting story about finding self-realization—and, on occasion, stealing a bucket of fried chicken.

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