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Push
By Saphire
(The Paperback)
. "Precious: : Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire"

In Harlem, an obese, illiterate and inexpressive sixteen year-old black girl struggles in school to the point that she's called into the principal's office. Though poor work in class might be enough reason for expulsion, the fact that she's now pregant with a second child leaves the administrator with no choice but one: reassignment to an alternate school so that she might yet earn her GED. That would be enough for most youths who have become premature mothers, but Clareece 'Precious' Jones has dreams of going even further.

Unfortunately, the dreams, which we see in vivid imagination scenes, are the product of a brutalized girl whose bondage to her mother leaves no other avenue of escape but to her dreamworld. It wouldn't be too much to call her enslaved--in a household of long term rape by her father and the extremely painful suppression of her worth or self-respect by her mother Mary (Mo'Nique). As we see more of the girl's home life our wonder grows that the girl is functional at all.

She's surprisingly agile outside of the abusive home. What appears to be inexpressiveness is really a practical way to avoid having to answer questions about her home life. Were she to do so, she'd be opening up a can of worms with unpredictable consequences. When she folds herself into the alternate schoolroom, Ms. Rain, the teacher (Paula Patton), ultimately finds she has something in her new student that she can work with. Precious wants to learn, and there's even a lively personality in all those folds of flesh.

As the cruelty from her mother mounts, Ms. Rain's tutelage manages to raise Precious' test levels significantly. When Precious begins to open up about the situation at home, disbelief turns into corrective action--which threatens the cushy benefits mom's been enjoying as her means to sit in front of the TV all day and night. When being cut off from government support becomes imminent, mom demands that her daughter go to the social welfare office and appeal for her own benefits.

Precious meets Mrs. Weiss (Mariah Carey) there, and finds another decent person who can only react to Precious' story with shock and disgust.

What awaits is Mary's own admissions about the cause of the abuse she's been inflicting upon her daughter. The emotion that has been building reaches climactic proportions and every audience who sees this film will be challenged to hold back tears for the unbelievably crusty protagonist who, by this time, has held us in utter awe of the internal spirit that abides within.

The cast here is exceptional. Sidibe, in a debut role, is moving as she responds to her parents' iniquities with quiet fortitude, creating enormous sympathy for an underage abuse victim without self-pity. Mo'Nique, the true villain of the piece, takes our breath away for the extent and continuity of the debasement she forces upon her offspring. Who knows what process this actress had to use to allow herself to enact a character of such unspeakable barbarity?

In particular, Mo'nique's performance has to go down as one of the most selfless performances I've seen, calling for the actor making herself inhabit a cesspool of depravity to the degree of realism that she achieves.

Mariah Carey adds to the phenomenon of selfless portrayals by appearing so plain and so devoid of her showbiz trappings as to suggest a disguise--the disguise of no makeup and the everyday drabness of the social worker. When tears ran down her face I'd sware they came from true emotion. You can't convey it unless you feel it and she was very much in the moment.

And, much praise should be heaped upon the shoulders of classy, beautiful Paula Patton for the superb manner she manifests in meeting her difficult students in one-on-one counseling. With an approach that goes well beyond the written word, she plays a woman who denies that any of her charges are incorrigible or incapable of improvement. Through the empathy and understanding that she expresses, she creates a credible refuge for them and for the likes of Precious and, thereby, symbolizes the best chance that may exist for the helpless or rebellious children in our society.

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One message to be drawn from this is a reminder that there exitst in our society sub-humans who know no boundaries for their narcissistic barbarity. It tells us that we need much more effective oversight.

The climax of this cannily crafted movie leaves us emotionally depleted as we witness the darkest extremes of shame and degradation that fouls the concept of family. It leaves you wondering if these are, indeed, humans who brutalize their children and treat them as slaves. The emotional involvement it causes us to feel comes in part, I think, from the distance the average moviegoer has from such sociopathic abnormality, all the more powerfully conveyed by the exposition of it without overstating the message. After all, Precious' eyes are dry. Ours are the ones that are wet.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Gabourey Sidibe
A debut performance; a character of enormous sympathy

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