Monday, November 05, 2012

Pariah




Written and directed by Dee Rees, Pariah is the story of a 17-year old African-American who begins to embrace herself as a lesbian while falling in love for the very first time. The film is an exploration of coming out as well as the world of homosexuality from an African-American point of view. Starring Adepero Oduye, Aasha Davis, Charles Parnell, and Kim Wayans. Pariah is a compelling and insightful drama from Dee Rees.

Alike (Adepero Oduye) is a 17-year old high school who lives in Brooklyn as she likes to hang out with her openly-gay friend Laura (Pernell Walker) where she finds herself attracted to women at a gay nightclub. Alike’s mother Audrey (Kim Wayans) is concerned about the way Alike dresses as she doesn’t really like Laura who she believes is a bad influence tough Alike’s policeman father Arthur (Charles Parnell) thinks it’s just a phase. Wanting Alike to hang out with different people, Alike is introduced to Bina (Aasha Davis) who is the daughter of Audrey’s co-worker at the hospital. Though the two are reluctant about their mothers setting them up, the two eventually become friends where Alike finds herself attracted to Bina.

While it causes a rift of sorts between Alike and Laura where the latter is trying to finish her GED, Alike is introduced to a new world of alternative rock to Bina as she ponders whether this is love or not. Alike’s life at home becomes tense when she notices that her parents are starting to fight more as Alike wonders if she needs to come out. During a night out with Bina, things seem fine for Alike as Laura notices the two as she’s glad Alike has found someone. Yet, the morning after provided lots of problems as Alike notices the growing problem between her parents where she would make a life-changing decision for herself.

The film is an exploration into the world of a 17-year old African-American high school student who is starting to realize that she is a lesbian as she wonders how to attract other women while keeping it a secret from her parents. When she starts to fall in love, it raises some issues as her mother becomes suspicious about what her daughter could be though her father thinks she’s going through something that teenagers are doing. Though her parents mean well, they’re just confused by what is going on with their daughter while they also have a 15-year old named Sharonda (Sahra Mellesse) who already knows what her sister is.

Dee Rees’ screenplay doesn’t carry a lot of plot though there is a sub story of Laura trying to raise money for herself and her girlfriend while wanting some acceptance from her own mother whom she hadn’t seen for some time. Rees does manage to maintain her focus on this young woman trying to find her identity as a woman and as a lesbian where she would write recollections in her book of poetry. It’s part of the schematics that Rees wants to set up as she takes her time to explore a young woman coming out and blossoming where she would experience a lot of things with first love.

Rees’ direction is quite straightforward though she does manage to create some very interesting compositions. Particularly as she aimed for a cinema verite style to keep things realistic as she also chooses to shoot the film in Brooklyn. The hand-held camera approach allows Rees to capture the vibrancy of the world of gay clubs and other places that is very unique to show something that is much more diverse than what is expected from typical African-American places. Even in the home life where it reveals that Alike’s family are this well-minded middle-class family who want to live a good life but they don’t have everything set in place. Notably in the film’s third act where the drama intensifies as it reaches towards some very telling moments. Overall, Dee Rees creates a very powerful and tender drama about a young girl’s exploration into her sexuality.

Cinematographer Bradford Young does amazing work with the film‘s very vibrant and colorful cinematographer from the straightforward look of many of the film‘s daytime and interior exteriors to the more lush colors of the nighttime scenes with its array of lights. Editor Mako Kamitsuna does excellent work with the editing to create some stylish jump-cuts for some of the film‘s emotional moments along with other stylish cuts to play out the sense of excitement and drama. Production designer Inbal Weinberg and art director Sara K. White do terrific work with set pieces from the look of Alike‘s room as well as the room of Bina.

Costume designer Eniola Dawodu does wonderful work with the costumes from the boyish clothes that Alike wears to the more girlish clothes of Bina. Sound designers Ian Stynes and Matt A. Schoenfeld, along with co-sound editor Britt Myers, do superb work with the sound from the atmosphere of the clubs that Alike and Laura attends to as well as the intimacy in Alike‘s home. The film’s soundtrack consists a wide variety of music ranging from hip-hop, folk, and indie rock to showcase the world that Alike encounters.

The casting by Eyde Belasco is brilliant for the ensemble that is created as it features some wonderful performances from Sahra Mellesse as Alike’s younger sister Sharonda as well as Pernell Walker as Alike’s best friend Laura. Charles Parnell is terrific as Alike’s father Arthur who tries to deal with his job while being a bit clueless about his own daughter as he’s trying to figure out what’s going on. Aasha Davis is excellent as Bina who befriends Alike as she introduces to a world different from commercial hip-hop as is intrigued by Alike’s persona. Kim Wayans is great as Alike’s mother Audrey who tries to come to term with Alike’s look as she is a woman with conservative views who has a hard time understanding who her daughter is. Finally, there’s Adepero Oduye in an incredible performance as Alike as she displays a unique restraint to her role as a shy, na├»ve person who is trying to figure out her identity while encountering a world that is very different as Oduye makes Alike a very captivating character.

Pariah is a marvelous film from Dee Rees that features superb performances from Adepero Oduye and Kim Wayans. The film is definitely an engaging film that explores the world of homosexuality from an African-American teenager’s point of view as well as showcasing something that is very different from most films concerning African-American life. The film is also a coming-of-age story that is very fascinating in the way it deals with something that manages to be very accessible as a young woman dealing with her sexuality. In the end, Pariah is an extraordinary film from Dee Rees.

© thevoid99 2012

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