×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Pariah

Vivid photography and a wonderful lead performance compensate for some first-timer missteps.

With:
With: Adepero Oduye, Pernell Walker, Aasha Davis, Charles Parnell, Sahra Mellesse, Kim Wayans, Shamika Cotton, Ray Anthony Thomas.

Vivid photography, true-to-life moments and a wonderful lead performance compensate for some first-timer missteps in debutante writer-director Dee Rees’ “Pariah,” a low-budget coming-out and coming-of-age piece set in the predominantly black neighborhoods of Brooklyn. Pic will surely strike a chord with fests, and an especially resonant one for those with an LGBT bent.

Expanding upon her 2007 short of the same name, Rees developed this feature with the help of the Sundance Institute, and it shows — for good and ill. At times the script feels overly workshopped, with its naturalistic rhythms broken up by a few excessively expository subplots and third-act shifts that arrive with dishearteningly rigid precision. It’s not enough to sink the pic, however, and the best scenes point toward a fine future for the director once her discretion catches up with her skill.

Those sporadic reversions to formula are all the more jarring considering the striking believability of lead actress Adepero Oduye, who is completely effective as bashfully budding 17-year-old lesbian Alike. Dragged along to Gotham gay clubs by butch best friend Laura (Pernell Walker), and pulled in the opposite direction by her girly-sweater-buying mom (Kim Wayans), never-been-kissed Alike searches for a bit of balance in the more grounded girl-next-door, Bina (Aasha Davis). Despite a legit background, Oduye comes across like a non-pro in the best way, her smiles more unrestrained, her sulks more unaffectedly teenage than one would expect from a stage-bred Cornell grad.

A bit too much time is expended on domestic quarrels between Alike’s parents (neither of whom are as well acted as the younger characters), and Alike’s mentorship by a lit professor could have been excised with few side-effects. Yet whenever the film threatens to sink into melodrama, Rees unleashes a crafty knack for springing sharp humor out of unexpected places; one hopes this talent will be honed into a keener weapon in the director’s arsenal as she matures.

Rees certainly has a gift for unconventional yet effective camera placement (shooting primarily on handheld), and d.p. Bradford Young deserves plaudits for his rich use of 35 mm stock. Other tech credits are fine for the budget.

Pariah

Production: A Northstar Pictures presentation, in association with Aid + Abet and MBK Entertainment. Produced by Nekisa Cooper. Executive producers, Spike Lee, Jeff Robinson, Sam Martin, Mary Jane Skalski, Susan Lewis, Ann Bradley, Stefan Nowicki, Benjamin Weber, Joey Carey. Directed, written by Dee Rees.

Crew: Camera (color), Bradford Young; editor, Mako Kamitsuna; production designer, Inbal Weinberg; art director, Sara K. White; costume designer, Eniola Dawodu; sound, Jon Reyes; re-recording mixer, Ian Stynes; assistant director, Antonio "TJ" Doctor. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 20, 2011. Running time: 86 MIN.

Cast: With: Adepero Oduye, Pernell Walker, Aasha Davis, Charles Parnell, Sahra Mellesse, Kim Wayans, Shamika Cotton, Ray Anthony Thomas.

More Scene

  • Adam Driver appears at the curtain

    Adam Driver on Starring in 'Burn This' for a Second Time

    The Hudson Theatre’s new production of “Burn This” marks its first Broadway revival since it premiered on the Great White Way in 1987, but Adam Driver is no stranger to the work. He starred as Pale in a Juilliard production of the Lanford Wilson drama when he was still a student — and only now, [...]

  • PMC Event Rome

    Film, Fashion, Formula E Mix at Rome E-Prix Bash

    Film, fashion and Formula E auto-racing fused during a dinner and celebration of the Rome E-Prix on Thursday at the Palazzo Dama by the Piazza del Popolo in the heart of the Eternal City.  Guests mingled and sipped cocktails as hors d’oeuvres were passed around in a former home of the Italian nobility with conversation [...]

  • Katy Perry, Diane von Furstenberg, Arianna

    Katy Perry and Anita Hill Honored at the DVF Awards

    Katy Perry was among the honorees at the 10th Annual DVF Awards on Thursday night. The singer was recognized for her advocacy work with both UNICEF and the LGBTQ community. “Music has opened the doors for so many opportunities for me,” she said while accepting the inspiration award. “The ability to meet people and champion [...]

  • Chrissy Metz'Breakthrough' Film Premiere, Arrivals, Regency

    Why 'This Is Us' Star Chrissy Metz Could End Up Performing at the Next Oscars

    Chrissy Metz made her live-singing debut on Sunday when she performed “I’m Standing With You” from her new movie “Breakthrough.” Was that just a step on her way to performing at the Oscars? Could be. The song was written by 10-time Oscar nominee Diane Warren. “They said Chrissy had to sing it and I was [...]

  • Bob IgerSimon Weisenthal Gala honoring Bob

    Disney's Bob Iger Blasts Hateful Political Discourse and Social Media: 'We Can Do Better'

    Bob Iger didn’t mince words while being honored Thursday by the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Upon receiving the Humanitarian Award at the organization’s National Tribute Dinner from Jeffrey Katzenberg, the Walt Disney Co. chairman and CEO delivered a scathing critique of social media and the current state of political discourse. “Hate and anger are dragging us [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content