It screened for the first time last night, at the ongoing Sundance Film Festival, where director Lee Daniels, and most of the cast were present for a Q&A following the premiere.
indieWIRE rep, Eric Kohn, was there to soak it all in, and below are his thoughts on the experience:
A standing ovation greeted Lee Daniels’ “Push: Based on the novel by Sapphire” tonight at the Racquet Club, even as insiders worried that a delayed screening of Antoine Fuqua’s “Brooklyn’s Finest” over at the Eccles held up some buyers. Buoyed by positive reaction after a test screening in Harlem earlier this week, Lee Daniels seemed anxiously optimistic while chatting casually with indieWIRE prior to the screening. After the showing, he was showered by well-wishers, some of whom posed for photos with Mo’Nique and Mariah Carey. Daniels also cast Lenny Kravitz in a key role. “If you are gonna tell a bold story, go all the way, be bold,” Daniels said on Friday night. indieWIRE offers a first take on the film in this latest dispatch from the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.
“Push: Based on the novel by Sapphire” is a movie of many textures, each one illuminating the emotionally gripping narrative at its core. Lee Daniels directs with bold strokes that could go wrong at any moment, but generally serve to illuminate a troubled life and the justified desire to escape it. The story of a troubled Harlem teen named Precious (Gabourey Sidibe) impregnated by her absent father, “Push” progresses with a steadily engaging series of starts and stops in the frayed world of its talented star. While fending off her dysfunctional mother (Monique, in a stunningly psychotic turn), Precious gradually learns to surpass her aimless fantasies and come to grips with the troubles at hand. Using lavishly photographed sequences, Daniels contrasts Precious’s daily woes with the happier existence inside her head, but these moments gradually give way to the protagonist’s fulfillment of her actual goals.
Moved to an alternative school to meet her special needs, Precious learns from more caring adults (including Mariah Carey as a trenchant social worker) about her obvious potential to mature. A spunky character with an increasing ability to editorialize about her new environment (“they talk like TV channels I don’t watch,” she says of her newfound mentors), Precious makes the ideal heroine of modern times. “Push” does not function exclusively as a story of race, but as a universal depiction of real world struggle. The only question is whether distributors can push themselves to get it out there.
Yes, that is indeed THE only question! Let's hope the answer is a resounding "YES!" I had my reservations with Daniels' casting choices (notably Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz); but, the above snapshot reads positive.
Here's another glowing review from MCARCHIVES that addresses my concerns:
Probably the least important aspect of Lee Daniels' fantastic new drama "Push: Based on the novel by Sapphire" was still the biggest elephant in the room at the Racquet Club theater in Park City, Utah last night: Can Mariah Carey show any acting skills whatsoever? Surprisingly, the answer is yes. In a movie filled with unconventional casting, Carey goes plain jane (i.e, absolutely no makeup) as a social worker and has to participate in a number of intense scenes where her fans will be happy to learn she clearly does not embarrass herself. The bigger surprises, however, were provided by Mo'Nique and the film's star, newcomer Gabourey Sidibe.
In her feature film debut, Sidibe is impressive conveying how battered Precious is, but she also shows glimpses of an inner strength the character will need to escape her hellish prison. Time will tell whether the young actress has the range for other roles, but its an auspicious start for sure.
As her domineering mother, Mo'Nique, who has previously only ventured into comedic roles, is absolutely stunning. Most of the film requires her to display utter contempt for Precious, but as the story progresses, she adds a sympathy that is both unexpected and moving. Mo'Nique may not have thought she had a career as a serious actress, but that will completely change after "Push".
More impressive is Daniels confident visual style that go beyond his spot on period references in the fantasy sequences. The filmmaker could have easily fallen into the melodramatic cliches of similar stories, but instead its the combination of superb performances, sharp production design and a keen eye that make "Push" so special.
"Push" is an inspiring and powerful film that will put Daniels on the map as one of cinema's emerging talents. Now, all he has to do is figure out how to pull off an equally rewarding encore.
Wow - well, so far so good! Looks like we have a winner!
I'm sure several more reviews will trickle in over the next few days; and, of course, I'll share them with you as I learn about them!
via INDIEWIRE // MCARCHIVES
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