Adepero Oduye, Kim Wayans, Aasha Davis, Charles Parnell, Pernell Walker
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
Dee Rees: A Director's Style; A Walk in Brooklyn; and Trying Out Identity: Pariah's Wardrobe.
Alike (Adepero Oduye) is a 17-year-old African-American young woman living with her parents, Arthur (Charles Parnell) and Audrey (Kim Wayans), and sister (Sahra Mallesse) in Brooklyn's Fort Greene Neighborhood. An good student and poet, Alike is flirting with the idea of becoming an "out" lesbian with strong encouragement from best friend Laura (Pernell Walker). She's incredibly unsure about revealing herself to her parents, both because of the growing tension within their marriage and her mother's fervent Christianity. She resists when her mother insists she become friends with Bina (Aasha Davis), a churchgoing young woman whom Alike unexpectedly finds a breath of fresh air and refreshingly open-spirited.
Written and directed by Dee Rees based upon her own short film, Pariah is the sort of high quality, under the radar film that seems to always escape the attention of the Oscars. Especially coming on the heels of the highly praised Precious, a seemingly similar but actually vastly different film, Pariah has spent most of the awards season not getting the attention it deserves for its terrific ensemble cast and for Rees' insightful and well-tuned direction.
Just as happened with Precious, which interested the cinematic world to Gabourey Sidibe, Pariah shines brightly mostly because of the absolutely terrific performance of young Adepero Oduye, who starred in Rees' short film but is a newcomer to feature films. Oduye gives a remarkable performance here, layered with anger and frustration and hope and belief and optimism. While the dialogue she delivers occasionally feels a tad too intentionally poetic, the performance nearly constantly feels richly authentic and natural. One got the sense after Precious that Gabourey Sidibe may continue acting, but she'd likely peaked with her first film. One gets the sense here that Oduye may very well be this generation's up-and-coming African American actress.
Yes, she's really that good. While it's difficult to predict whether or not Oduye could pick up an Oscar nomination (Let's face it. Streep or Michelle Williams will win), there's no question her performance is award-worthy.
While the film's advertising has made it look like a rather "angry" film, Pariah is actually a surprisingly heartfelt and tender experience that is as much about a young woman's coming-of-age as it is about her status as an outcast pariah in her world. Yes, there is anger, mostly the fear expressed through Kim Wayans' career best performance as Alike's mother, but a good portion of the film takes place outside that world and in a world where Alike is free to be who she is and to express how she really feels with all its uncertainties, frustrations, fears, angers and ridiculous joys.
One of Pariah's producers is Spike Lee, and there are times in the film when it feels like we may be watching one of Lee's earlier films (especially Do The Right Thing). D.P. Bradford Young's lensing beautifully captures Brooklyn in a visual feast of blues and reds, while the film's story is lower key yet far longer lasting in one's memory than the aforementioned Precious. There's something about Alike that simply stays with you, mostly because Oduye's poetic performance is fluid both physically and emotionally. In addition to the standout performance by Wayans, Pernell Walker and Charles Parnell are both incredibly good here.
Pariah was a hit at last year's Sundance Film Festival and has been picked up by Focus Features for an indie/arthouse run that will hopefully garner enough box-office to make it a long-shot contender during awards season. She may not get quite the kudos as did Gabourey Sidibe, but Adepero Oduye gives just as remarkable a debut performance.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic