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Review by Chris Heller
Rating: (5 out of 5) [Critic’s Pick!]
Saturday, 10/22/2011, 5:00 PM
Feature presentation, $12 at Lisner Auditorium
IN THE WRONG hands, Pariah could have easily settled as the sum of its parts — a poignant look at a black teenager’s life as a lesbian in New York City. But under the careful eye of writer and director Dee Rees, whose own life inspired the movie, it’s a character-driven drama that beautifully explores social standards and barriers within black culture.
Alike (Adepero Oduye), a 17-year-old high-school student, is stuck in a sexually difficult place. She’s not comfortable as a traditional butch or femme, frets about losing her virginity, and can’t see fitting in with straight crowds. At home, she hides her sexuality from her homophobic mother (Kim Wayans) and stern father (Charles Parnell), though they harbor suspicions. She’s only comfortable with her best friend, Laura (Pernell Walker), whose feelings for her may be more than platonic. And when she finally finds a relationship with a like-minded girl, it’s nowhere near what she expected.
Rees balances Alike’s life with gorgeous camerawork, shooting behind corners and framing characters between everyday props to ground each scene in an urban reality. In a sly cinematic move, shots open wider and brighter as Alike grows into her sexuality and identity. It’s a difficult transition — and relationships are destroyed along the way — but it’s necessary to the message of the movie. And coupled with a stellar bit of acting from the entire cast, top-to-bottom, Pariah delivers that message with such unrelenting clarity that it’s hard not to be impressed.
Quite simply, Pariah is a must-see for any Reel Affirmations ticketholder.