Sundance: The women of 'Push' make us laugh, weep copiously

Of the dozens of stars who have passed through the EW Photo Studio at Sundance this week, none left us quite so dumbstruck as the powerful, passionate women of Push, director Lee Daniels’ take on the Sapphire novel of the same title. Piled together on a couch, clutching each others’ hands, grabbing the tape recorder to send a special request to Kleenex for some extra boxes, Mo’Nique, Paula Patton, and newcomer Gabourey Sidibe — who plays Precious, an obese, illiterate, sexually abused teen — were the perfect antidote to the promotional gloss of the celebrity conveyor belt. It’s no doubt due in large part to the group’s impressive emotional availability that their movie has been the surprise breakout of the fest, with the first question from the audience after its premiere reportedly being, “Mo’Nique, what are you going to wear to the Oscars?” (You can read Owen Gleiberman’s take on it here.)

Sidibe, a 25 year old with a tendency to snort when she giggles, said she hasn’t quite let her current circumstances sink in. “I would freak out,” she said, in a voice hoarse from exhaustion. “I haven’t been in a movie before, so everything is so Entourage. We’re walking up Main Street and everyone’s like, ‘You were so wonderful.’ ‘Oh, I can’t wait to see your movie.’ Oh my God. That is sooooo Entourage. But I can’t let it in, because I wouldn’t even be here. I’d be on the floor someplace.”

Her costars, while more accustomed to public life, seemed just as profoundly affected by their surroundings — especially in light of Tuesday’s inauguration. “I really believe the reaction we’ve gotten to this movie is a direct response to Obama being elected,” said Patton, whose voice had also abandoned her. “I believe white guilt — whether it was right or wrong — dissipated. Now, screening this film for an audience that’s predominately white, they loved it.” Here, she started to get choked up. “There was a white man there, 60 years old, you wouldn’t think he’d relate to any of us. He said, ‘I come to this festival all the time. I’ve seen maybe 75 films. This is the best one I’ve ever seen, and the only time I’ve cried in a movie.’ In that crowd in Salt Lake City, it felt like we were all one. I’ve dealt with racism in my way, and it was a healing experience to stand in front of that audience and be embraced, and loved. And I really believe that’s because we got over a major hump in America when we elected Barack. I don’t know if this movie would have played that well a year ago, or five years ago. I think it’s right on time.”

But the hankies really came out when Mo’Nique and Patton were asked what they learned from watching Ms. Sidibe’s performance. Patton said she’s “in awe” of the younger actress’s talent; Mo’Nique’s opinion cannot be paraphrased properly. “I would have to say security,” she said, gravely serious. “To play a role like that. To be abused like that. And to be called fat, stupid, and dumb, and obese, and black as in a negative. That’s a security, baby, that I don’t know how many people have. Because what they said as a character is what we as fat people hear when we’re not in character. So to hear that, and to get up, and say, ‘What’s next?’ She taught me security. Just a sense of security to say, ‘Whatever you want to call me, whatever you want to say, watch me stand.‘” (At this point in the interview, everyone, including the journalist, was crying.) “I don’t know how I could have dealt with that. To be able to hear “Cut!” and then giggle? I’m looking, like, ‘B—-, you are my hero!”

Here, Mo’Nique launched into a rather exuberant version of “Wind Beneath My Wings” that had Sidibe snorting again, before turning the serious tables around. “I prayed as a little girl to be half as confident as you,” she told Mo’Nique, with as much vehemence as her wrecked voice would allow. “I just wanted to be so much like you. Cause you’re happy. You’re okay. And it taught me to know what I am, and what I’m not. I’m big, and I’m black, and I’m fat, and that got me a job.”

Her costars, while more accustomed to public life, seemed just as profoundly affected by their surroundings — especially in light of Tuesday’s inauguration. "I really believe the reaction we’ve gotten to this movie is a direct response to Obama being elected," said Patton, whose voice had also abandoned her. "I believe white guilt — whether it was right or wrong — dissipated. Now, screening this film for an audience that’s predominately white, they loved it." Here, she started to get choked up. "There was a white man there, 60 years old, you wouldn’t think he’d relate to any of us. He said, ‘I come to this festival all the time. I’ve seen maybe 75 films. This is the best one I’ve ever seen, and the only time I’ve cried in a movie.’ In that crowd in Salt Lake City, it felt like we were all one. I’ve dealt with racism in my way, and it was a healing experience to stand in front of that audience and be embraced, and loved. And I really believe that’s because we got over a major hump in America when we elected Barack. I don’t know if this movie would have played that well a year ago, or five years ago. I think it’s right on time."

But the hankies really came out when Mo’Nique and Patton were asked what they learned from watching Ms. Sidibe’s performance. Patton said she’s "in awe" of the younger actress’s talent; Mo’Nique’s opinion cannot be paraphrased properly. "I would have to say security," she said, gravely serious. "To play a role like that. To be abused like that. And to be called fat, stupid, and dumb, and obese, and black as in a negative. That’s a security, baby, that I don’t know how many people have. Because what they said as a character is what we as fat people hear when we’re not in character. So to hear that, and to get up, and say, ‘What’s next?’ She taught me security. Just a sense of security to say, ‘Whatever you want to call me, whatever you want to say, watch me stand.‘" (At this point in the interview, everyone, including the journalist, was crying.) "I don’t know how I could have dealt with that. To be able to hear "Cut!" and then giggle? I’m looking, like, ‘B—-, you are my hero!"

Here, Mo’Nique launched into a rather exuberant version of "Wind Beneath My Wings" that had Sidibe snorting again, before turning the serious tables around. "I prayed as a little girl to be half as confident as you," she told Mo’Nique, with as much vehemence as her wrecked voice would allow. "I just wanted to be so much like you. Cause you’re happy. You’re okay. And it taught me to know what I am, and what I’m not. I’m big, and I’m black, and I’m fat, and that got me a job."

Comments (1 total) Add your comment
  • Yolanda

    I can’t wait to see this movie, but first I need to read the book to see if the film measures up.

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