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"Precious" enjoys charmed life -- so far

 Actress Gabourey Sidibe, star of the new film
Actress Gabourey Sidibe, star of the new film 'Precious: Based on the novel 'Push' by Sapphire', poses at the AFI Fest 2009 gala screening of the film in Hollywood November 1, 2009. REUTERS/Fred Prouser
— image credit: Reuters

By Steven Zeitchik

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - It seems almost strange to recall now, but when "Precious" premiered at Sundance in January, it not only wasn't the biggest movie of the festival, it wasn't even the biggest movie of the night.

That honor belonged to "Brooklyn's Finest," a cop drama that debuted to high expectations thanks to the starring presence of Richard Gere and Ethan Hawke and the pedigree of director Antoine Fuqua.

Since then, the fates of the two movies couldn't have diverged further. "Finest" got a mixed reception because of its comically bloody final act, landed one buyer, then switched to another buyer, and had a director re-cut the picture drastically. It's anyone's guess how and when new acquirer Overture will bring it out.

"Precious," on the other hand, has led a charmed life -- an inversion of the hard-luck tale told by the movie itself. Director Lee Daniels' tale of inner-city woe and pluck excited buyers, ended up at Lionsgate, generated awards talk, drew the interest of both Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry and went on to become the toast of Cannes and Toronto.

And then this past weekend's happy chapter -- an eye-popping $100,000 average from 18 screens in four cities ahead of its national rollout on November 20.

The picture has a very achievable goal: to become the biggest Sundance hit of the past decade. It has to beat "Little Miss Sunshine," which earned $60 million domestically, and, coincidentally, Lionsgate's own "Saw," which earned $55 million after taking Sundance by storm in 2004.

There is a caveat to all this. "Precious" has succeeded in its opening-weekend on very limited terms. And the picture is dark, sometimes relentlessly so, so its expansion will be tricky.

Word-of-mouth on dark movies can be tough; even with Oprah's endorsement, the ability to keep the momentum going will depend on something largely out of Lionsgate's control: new filmgoers not being turned off by early adopters cautioning that it's tough to watch. For now, though, the improbably happy saga continues.

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