In case you were the number one popular person in school during your high school years, or you have been hopped-up on a variety of medications since then, it’s a pretty sure bet you can remember what those days were like. Tremulous. Turbulent. Terrifying. Even more so if you’re gay. Now, while I cannot personally identify with the latter (despite what the jocks and my ex-girlfriends would say), I have only been able to imagine how uneasy life must have been until setting my eyes on the coming-of-age drama Pariah — the hard-hitting tale of a lesbian teenager named Alike (Adepero Oduye), who is coming to terms with both her sexuality and her identity.
Boasting the oh-so-appropriate but not commonly known noun for a title, Pariah is basically an expanded, feature-length remake of a 2007 short film by an up-and-coming indie filmmaker named Dee Rees. We begin with Alike at a lesbian club with her best friend Laura (Pernell Walker) — who is also gay, but who is much more open with her sexuality. In fact, Laura’s out-of-the-closet approach to living has resulted in being detested by her own family; a feeling that Alike’s mum and dad (Kim Wayans and Charles Parnell, respectively) share. Alike, on the other hand, has chosen to conceal her true self from her parents, leaving for in the clothes her mother buys, only to change into her own threads en route.
Writer/director Rees spins us a captivating yarn here, as we explore elements of Alike’s everyday life — from her first (disastrous) dive into the world of sex, to her masked family life that eventually comes under fire when the truth begins to finally emerge. It’s a touching production that anyone who has ever felt out of place in life (whether the case be sexuality or otherwise), and Rees commands the best performances that she can from her cast.
Focus Features presents Pariah in a stunning High-Def presentation with a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that is quite admirable for this not being a sound effect heavy flick. The decidedly short (for most of today’s films) 87-minute moving picture is accompanied by English (SDH), French, and Spanish subtitles, as well as an extremely disappointing handful of bonus materials which amount to little more than three behind-the-scenes featurettes that barely add up to a nine minutes combined.
In short, Pariah is an enjoyable (for those of you who don’t mind a drama about gay black teenage girls) film with some powerful performances and an ever-topical theme.