AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL 2011
By Don Simpson | October 28, 2011
Director: Dee Rees
Writer: Dee Rees
Starring: Adepero Oduye, Kim Wayans, Pernell Walker, Charles Parnell, Aasha Davis, Sahra Mellesse
Alike (Adepero Oduye) is very shy and totally unsure of herself. At 17-years of age, Alike attempts to define herself by her tomboy wardrobe, as if wearing a placard that boldly states “Kiss me, I’m a lesbian”; because that is really all she wants, a kiss. Hanging around her bull-dyke best friend, Laura (Pernell Walker), further accentuates her boyish traits. Of course Alike’s overprotective Christian mother (Kim Wayans) does not like that. She wants Alike to wear clothes that flaunt her girlish figure; but that seems to only make Alike rebel more. Luckily, Alike’s father (Charles Parnell) is oblivious enough to his surroundings that she is able to maintain a somewhat “normal” relationship with him; while her meddling little sister (Sahra Mellesse) is the only family member who is fully cognizant and accepting of Alike’s sexual orientation.
As much as I like Pariah, and would never want to discount its message, it is very difficult for me to overlook some of the very same issues that I had with Lee Daniels’ Precious. For instance, the images, set design and performances seem more like Hollywood representations of Alike’s world; a hyper-real manifestation of reality. Drama and emotion are tweaked off the charts like some nauseatingly sappy poetry or excruciatingly trite singer-songwriter lyrics. The dialogue seems oh so perfectly manicured, and certain scenes seem all too purposeful. Two scenarios in particular seem especially unreal to me: when an AP English teacher urges Alike to “go deeper” with her soul-baring poetry and when Laura passes her GED only to have her mother slam a door in her face when she tries to tell her the good news. (Oh, and do not even get me started on the conclusion…) The apparent falsities constantly distract me from the emotional core of this heartbreaking tale — which is a crying shame because several of the performances are quite amazing and I really do love Pariah‘s overall message. For me, this story would have really benefited from a more realistic representation and a wee bit more directorial restraint.
But, I want to conclude this on an uplifting note, because Pariah really is quite effective in portraying how a teenager’s closeted queer lifestyle can lead to friction at home, leaving a crumbling family unit in its wake. This is by no means Alike’s fault; her parents are irritatingly irrational and clueless towards her homosexuality (and parenting in general). The overall situation seems brutally honest, as if it is torn directly from the pages of Rees’ personal experience.