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PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - Singer Mariah Carey has taken a break from pop stardom to act in new movie "Push," but far from her lead role in semi-autobiographical "Glitter," Carey has opted for a supporting part in this often grim tale.
In fact, the real star of "Push," which debuted this past weekend at Sundance, is an unknown actress from Harlem, Gabourney Sidibe, playing an obese and overburdened 16-year-old named "Precious" Jones who is twice impregnated by her father and is beaten by her mother.
Yet, she also has adults who look out for her, and one of those is welfare case worker, Mrs. Weiss, played by Carey.
With her stringy hair and no nonsense attitude, Mrs. Weiss is far from the glamorous role Carey took in 2001's "Glitter," which was loosely based on her own rise to pop music stardom.
But that movie was panned by critics and earned only $5.3 million at global box offices. Since then, Carey has starred in a few movies, but for the most part they have been seen only on TV, DVD or outside the United States.
"Push," however, is based on a best-selling novel and directed by Lee Daniels who produced "Monster's Ball," which earned Halle Berry a best actress Oscar. So curiosity was running high at Sundance to see how Carey performed.
At least one early review was positive. Show business paper Daily Variety called "Push," "courageous and uncompromising," and added that "among the many delightful surprises in the film is Mariah Carey, who is pitch-perfect as a welfare counselor and serves as this demi-tragedy's Greek chorus."
In "Push," Carey has chosen the small but pivotal role of a woman who unravels Precious' monstrous home life of abuse and teenage motherhood.
"Mrs. Weiss is sort of the eyes of the audience, the people who don't know anybody like this in their lives," Carey told reporters late Saturday.
"Yes it's her job ... but even someone who goes through that every day and sees these horrific things, she hears something that changes her," Carey said about the range of emotions she must show as Mrs. Weiss.
Despite its dark material, the film had Sundance audiences laughing at several comic scenes, revolving around surrealistic dreams Precious creates to escape. In one, she sees herself and her mother transported into a Sophia Loren movie playing on television, where her mom curses at her in Italian.
"Push" is based on a novel of the same name by New York writer Sapphire, whose given name is Ramona Lofton. The book proved controversial when it hit retail stories in 1996 because of its graphic description of incest, but it also made it to the New York Times Bestseller list.
"I was just glued to this book when I read it in, I guess '98, and it stays with you," Carey said.
Carey is not the only Grammy-winning singer in the movie. Rocker Lenny Kravitz plays a small role as a nurse's aide who helps Precious deliver her second child.
That star power could help give the film wider release in the U.S. and internationally. The filmmakers are still in talks with studios to find a distributor.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte