Saturday, January 28, 2012

Pariah is No Outcast to Quality Film Making

Pariah (3 1/2 out 5 Stars)
Directed and Written by Dee Rees
Starring Adepero Oduye, Pernell Walker, and Kim Wayans

The subject matter of this film could have been twisted into a bad Lifetime movie.  There are times when studios twist dramatic stories into overwrought melodrama, but Dee Rees does not allow her semi-autobiographical story of her own coming become changed.  Rees has created an incredible film with depth, that never diverges into cliches or stereotypes.

Alike or sometimes Li who is coming to terms with her own identity as she flings dollar bills at women in a strip club with her friend Laura (Pernell Walker).  Alike knows she is a lesbian, but she struggles to embrace the scene where she hangs out with Laura.  Even though Alike knows she is different she is still trying to maintain her own integrity and find someone who she genuinely connects with.

Alike's struggle continues within her family; her mom (Kim Wayans) puts a lot of pressure on Alike to wear make-up, dress in pink, and hang out with more traditional girls.  Alike likes wearing a fitted, beaters, baggy clothes, and will change once she gets to school.  Alike has a close relationship with her father, but even he pretends not to see the real girl inside.   Here parents have a marriage built upon convenience and Audrey often takes out her frustration and anger with her husband on Alike, as if they are the same person. Alike lets out her pain and anguish in her writing, which helps her to express her emotional anguish.

Rees has constructed a gripping believable tale about a young black female who is trying to be herself, while staying connected to her family. The script and direction are solid, and work to make Alike's story incredibly tragic, yet real.  Rees stays true to her characters and uses the terrific acting to bring this film to life. Adepero Oduye is mesmerizing as Alike, and she has given one of my favorite female performances of the year.  Oduye plays innocent, naive, and broken well!  Pernell Walker who plays Laura has some great scenes as well, one particularly where she goes to she her mother after getting her GED.  Her mother looks at her disgust as she sees her daughter dead from her life in men's clothing.

This film is solid, and even though it slowed in the middle and rushed some of the emotional development, I was hooked.  This is the best film I have seen that chronicles the struggle being a black lesbian.  Saying this may not mean much, because few films tackle this subject matter.  I am glad Rees had the opportunity to make this film, her personal experiences help make this such a deeply emotional experience no one should miss.

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