Sunday, January 25, 2009


2009 Sundance Film Festival ★ ★ ★ ★

I’m not surprised that Push won both the Grand Jury and Audience Award at Sundance this year. Director Lee Daniels (Shadowboxer) has created a very powerful film that manages to entertain while evoking a broad spectrum of emotions, from anger and heartbreaking pity to optimism, joy and hope.

Clareece “Precious” Jones is a fat 16-year-old illiterate black girl that lives in Harlem with her welfare-dependent, abusive mother. She has an autistic daughter who lives with her grandmother and is pregnant with another child, both from her mother’s boyfriend who is also Clareece’s father. Her mother repeatedly tells her how stupid and worthless she is while other kids make fun of her obesity. She has become hardened and heartless, lacking education and social skills. She spends her time cooking for her mother and fantasizing unrealistically about a glamorous life. Based on a novel by Sapphire, this is some pretty bleak stuff.

But good things can happen, and Precious is blessed with an indomitable spirit that refuses to believe what others tell her. Through her efforts, and despite resistance from her mother, she finds an alternative school. It is staffed by a caring teacher and classmates who, although anything but perfect, possess enough compassion to become supportive friends. It turn out that the world can be a pretty good place.

First-time actress Gabby Sidibe is extraordinary as Precious. Equally good are talented actress Mo’Nique, who plays the mother, and Paula Patton as the teacher. Lenny Kravitz and Mariah Carey also have minor roles, giving the film a little star power.

Daniels conveys a Harlem existence that is profane, hard-edged and brutal, but with rays of humanity and compassion that leave room for hope. It is at once both a message to the poor in spirit not to despair, and to the rest of us make the time and effort to reach out where we can. Push is an inspiring message that will fill you with optimism and joy.



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