06/15/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

GONZO CANNES: Can You Handle Mo'Nique?

Believe it, bitches. And don't forget the apostrophe. As far as I'm concerned, Mo'Nique could take Meryl Streep in an Oscar bar fight one-handed - and clean the floor with her.

She scared me to death in a movie screened at Cannes today called "Precious" that won all the big awards at Sundance this year when it was called "Push" - but's been locked in litigation over distribution rights ever since.

Mo'Nique plays the monstrous mother of an obese Harlem teenager and incest victim named Precious (an excellent Gabourey Sidibe.) Precious is pregnant with her second child by her own father when we first see her onscreen.

For most of the movie, Mo'Nique is seated in an armchair in her grim apartment like a black female Dr. Evil, ordering Precious around like a servant, insulting her with the worst vitriol, forcing her to overeat - and occasionally getting up to slam her head against the wall.

My stomach literally began to knot up every time Precious returned home from school to face "Mama." Mo'Nique felt so dangerous it was as if she might step out of the screen and come punch me in the face any minute.

If you just read the handout before the movie, it sounds like an Afterschool special writ large, especially since Mariah Carey is featured.

Carey's only got about three scenes and less than 10 minutes total onscreen playing a plain-looking social worker who tries to help Precious escape her violent mother. The fact that Carey can actually act in this movie - and is more appealing without makeup than she is as a dolled-up diva - would normally be the headline.

But the whole cast is so good (Lenny Kravitz is memorable in a tiny role as a male nurse's aide and Robin Thicke's wife Paula Patton is a standout as Precious' lesbian teacher) and the movie so real and harrowing that Carey's presence is not much more than a very good footnote.

The movie was originally called "Push: Based on The Novel By Sapphire" but the name was changed because there was another movie called "Push." Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry both got behind the film after it was screened at Sundance; if you see it you'll see why.