Review: Pariah


Pariah is generating a lot of buzz, and with good reason. The movie tackles some subjects that aren’t often used in mainstream movies, and it explores them well. It should be a pretty good indicator of the story that it went from a short student film to a full-length feature being partially funded by Spike Lee.

Of course, moving from a short film to a feature-length isn’t easy, and Pariah has a few problems with the transition. Are the issues big enough to detract from the experience? Read on to find out.

Pariah Director: Dee Rees
Rating: R
Release Date: December 18, 2011 (limited)

Pariah follows Alike (Adepero Oduye), a high school junior in Brooklyn coming to terms with her identity. She knows her parents will not take news of her sexuality well, so she vents instead through poetry and with her drop-out openly gay friend, Laura (Pernell Walker). Between her mother pushing a more feminine look and Laura’s attempts to mold her to the butch club scene, Alike has to find the kind of person she really is.

This is not a happy story. There are certainly happy moments, and a good amount of laughs, but as one would imagine, the tale of a lesbian in Brooklyn with conservative black parents probably isn’t going to be all giggles and rainbows. There are some very dark scenes, and a few tear-jerking moments. Despite these, the film keeps an uplifting tone. Alike knows what she needs in life, and Pariah is the story of some of the obstacles she faces along the way.

The acting is amazing. Every single character is believable and realistic, which is wonderful to see in a smaller film. The cast doesn’t have any big names in it, but there’s a high possibility that they’ll be much bigger soon. The dialogue is natural and often pretty funny. While Alike does spend a lot of the movie brooding in silence, it’s easy to read her expression, and she just comes across as someone who doesn’t waste words instead of someone who doesn’t have them.

The cinematography is well-done but not terribly stunning. The lower-quality camera actually works very well with the setting and tone of the movie. There’s a lot of the whole close-ups-on-the-face-to-show-that-the-character-is-very-emotional thing that movies about conflicted characters often pull, but they don’t detract from the overall feel of the movie. The aforementioned wonderful acting definitely helps with that.

There are a few small pacing issues. The film is very short, only running 86 minutes, and there are a few sections that feel rushed and glossed over because of this. At times, it feels like things are happening too quickly, but the worst problem with the pacing is feeling locked out of an aspect of Alike’s road to self-discovery. One of the biggest offenders is the relationship between Alike and Laura. There is a moment that strongly insinuates that there is more to their friendship than platonic feelings, but there is never any more shown, and it just feels like their friendship is somewhat confusing.

Overall, Pariah is a good movie on a tough subject, and well worth checking out in theaters if it comes to a city near you.