Mo'Nique's stunning performance stands out in 'Precious'

Gut-wrenching film is relentlessly powerful.

November 19, 2009 

There are rare times when one performance can be so soul-jarring amazing that it eclipses even the best of films, such as Daniel Day Lewis in "My Left Foot" or Heather Ledger in "The Dark Knight."

It's even more staggering when that performance comes from such an unexpected source as found in "Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire."

Comedian Mo'Nique's portrayal of a physically and emotionally abusive mother is as surprising as it is stunning.

This kind of acting transformation -- a complete metamorphosis to turn into a sadistic and vile creature -- is why there are the Oscars. It's a performance you won't soon forget.

As if it needed anything else, "Precious" also features memorable performances by newcomer Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe, in the title role, and Paula Patton.

Here's how good the movie is: Even Mariah Carey, who made "Glitter" one of the great film disasters, turns in a solid performance.

Precious (Sidibe) is an obese, illiterate teenager living in Harlem. She's pregnant with her second child, the result of sexual abuse.

Precious seems forever condemned to the living hell that is her life under the abusive control of her mother (Mo'Nique). Hope comes in the chance to enroll in an alternative school and a teacher who offers Precious the first nurturing in her life.

Director Lee Daniels pulls no emotional punches as he turns Sapphire's novel into a gut-wrenching experience. This is a hard movie to watch at times -- but it is too important to ignore. The movie's lone flaw is that since the novel is based on a collection of real young women, the staggering number of challenges Precious faces seems like overkill.

Daniels sticks to the book, and the result is a film that's a slap in the face to any passive observer.

Fueled by the powerful story and the award-worthy performances, it demands attention and never lets up in that quest.

The film is a triumph.

TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at rbentley@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6355. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.

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