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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

NORRIS: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire." In a moment, we'll hear from the book's author. The movie, which is out today, is one of the season's most highly anticipated and darkest releases. Here's more from our critic Bob Mondello.

BOB MONDELLO: At a Harlem alternative high school, a last chance for problem students. A teacher asks an obese 16-year-old to introduce herself to the class.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "PRECIOUS")

GABOUREY SIDIBE: (as Claireece Precious Jones) My name Claireece Precious Jones. I go about Precious. I live in Harlem. I like yellow. And I have problems on my other school, so I come here.

Unidentified Woman #1 (Actor): (as Character) Something you do well?

SIDIBE: (as Precious) Nothing.

MONDELLO: Even at that, Precious understates. She started the school year old but illiterate, bruised and abused at home, pregnant with her second child by her own father.

As director Lee Daniels plunged it into a harrowing home life with a mother who's likely to slam a frying pan into Precious' head as to offer a word of kindness, you marveled that there's even a spark of resilience left. Yet somehow, Precious keeps pulling herself up even as her manipulative mother works on her social worker to drag her and her infant son back down.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "PRECIOUS")

MONDELLO: (as Mary Jones) They belong to me, okay? Now, there was a time, Precious had everything and I had told her that. And me and Carl, we love Precious, and you need to know that. We love Precious. And we have dreams. Precious was born around the same time Ms. Rain's son got killed, the summertime. She was born the summertime, remember? Remember that?

SIDIBE: (as Precious) I was born in November.

MONDELLO: (as Mary) November. Yeah. That's right.

MONDELLO: Gabourey Sidibe who plays Precious is quietly monumental in her film debut. Her face so full, it scarcely seems capable of registering emotion. And she is surrounded by supporting players as unlikely as they are gifted. Rocker Lenny Kravitz as the maternity nurse, drabbed down pop star Mariah Carey as a bulldog of a social worker and standup comic Mo'Nique, shattered and shattering as a monstrous mother so psychologically damaged, she doesn't even register what she's done to her child.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "PRECIOUS")

MARIAH CAREY: (as Mrs. Weiss) You shut up and you let him abuse your daughter.

MONDELLO: (as Mary) I did not want him to abuse my daughter. I did not want let him to hurt her.

CAREY: (as Mrs. Weiss) But you allowed him to hurt her.

MONDELLO: (as Mary) I did not want him to do nothing to her - supposed the things she told you what he did to her, who's going to love me? Who was going to make me feel good?

MONDELLO: The director isn't shy about slamming points home with sledgehammer subtlety. But he also makes the milieu and the characters in "Precious" feel so real that its story packs an emotional wallop as enormous and as affecting as its title character.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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