REVIEW: Pariah

29 08 2013

There’s plenty to be admired about “Pariah,” a courageous movie about a courageous teenager.  The eponymous pariah, Adepero Oduye’s Alike, is such an outcast because she loves other women.  Though the movie comes from a post-“Brokeback Mountain” world and appears to be set it in one, the title is merited since African-Americans are shown to be one of the most hostile groups towards gays (at least at the voting booth).

Alike’s strict and rather conservative parents don’t like her dressing like a man or a butch, forcing her to find platonic friendship with people of her own sex rather than her openly lesbian friend.  The drama between Alike and her traditional mother, Audrey, is intensely raw and emotional.

But aside from the explosive confrontations, I didn’t find much else to be compelling about “Pariah.”  It’s clear that writer/director Dee Rees put some autobiographical elements into the film since she herself has dealt with society’s implicit stigma of inferiority on homosexuals.  This frustration comes out most clearly in the fights and arguments, which feel like natural expressions of exasperation in just wanting to be who she feels she is.

Yet otherwise, the movie just suffers from debut feature-itis.  “Pariah” lacks much of a real emotional pull towards any of the characters; though of course I felt a great deal of sympathy for Alike, I never felt compelled or drawn in by her struggle.  The story doesn’t really push forward with any momentum, somehow making an 86 minute movie feel much, much longer.

And it opens with Khia’s “My Neck, My Back,” which always gives me a tremendous case of the giggles.  I know that’s a bit of a stupid complaint, but that’s not the song you want stuck in your head while watching people miserably flail against a myopic society.  B-2stars

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