Gay people are gay. No matter how you dress them, no matter who they spend their time with, no matter how you want them to behave, gay people are just going to be gay. They're stubborn like that. In the drama Pariah, writer/director Dee Rees taps into the mind of a teenage lesbian struggling with her sexual identity.
Adepero Oduye stars as Alike, a teenager who wears her sexual preference on her sleeve at school but has yet to come out to her parents, opting to change her clothes before entering her home to appear more "straight". Though her father (Charles Parnell) is the domineering force in the household, it's her unhappy mother (Kim Wayans) who she's most afraid of telling. Deep down her mother already knows the truth, but refuses to admit it to herself, convinced that the problem will go away if she forces her daughter to do and wear "straight" things.
Pariah is a beautifully crafted and well executed drama. Based on a 2007 short, which was also directed by Rees and starred Oduye, the movie paints a believable and insightful look at one young lesbian's coming-of-age experience. Though it revolves around her sexuality, the movie isn't heavy handed in its approach toward homosexuality, preferring instead to rely on Oduye's nuanced performance to tell the story. The movie could be about any teen, straight or otherwise, trying to find her way in the world, which is exactly the point: gay teenagers face the same fears and uncertainties as any other kid, albeit magnified by current social pressures.
Message aside, Pariah works on many levels. The movie looks great, raw and gritty yet colorful and vibrant. More importantly, Oduye delivers a great performance as Alike. She is utterly believable and worthy of more recognition than she'll receive; her performance is one of the best of 2011.
Parnell and Wayans are also good in their respective roles; as emotionally strong as Wayans is, it's Parnell that steals the show, his character an enigma. It's never clear how he'll react to any particular situation.
Pariah is engaging, raw and emotionally powerful. Adepero Oduye gives one of the year's best performances. And Pariah is one of the undiscovered gems of the year.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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