Pariah - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Pariah Reviews

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Super Reviewer
½ December 31, 2011
This was really good, it will hurt your heart. But "Breaking is freeing." If I could change one thing about this movie, it would be to omit the dad's phone calls -- it's the difference between subtlety and "soap opera". And holy crap Aasha Davis was 37 years old when they filmed this?!
Super Reviewer
½ April 24, 2012
A complex portrait of a struggling lesbian teenager from a conservative household, "Pariah" tries to be enlightening, even tragic in its depiction, and though it's obvious it's trying this approach, it's piteous enough to yield emotional depth. The lead character is as personable as any high school kid trying to understand their own body, while also feeling constrained by their parental units. The lead character is not just a lesbian, with all the trappings of stereotypical behavior usually shown, even in indie faire. Lead character Alike (Oduye) is very intelligent, accomplished, and understands the perplexing complications of her sexuality versus expectations from her family and peers. As a character study it's pretty riveting, though the plot isn't all that new. While there's a central conflict between Alike and her family, it's more a struggle between her fighting parents and less to do with turmoil over her sexual preference. Much of what affects Alike's life, and the consequences of her actions, are only partially alluded to, but never explained in-depth. While this explores many facets about the world unseen in modern depictions of gay culture, it could have gone many steps further.
Super Reviewer
May 18, 2013
The struggle and pain are palpable. An extraordinary performance by Oduye giving voice to a segment of the LGBT community I have never gotten to know. My life was enriched for having seen this film.
Super Reviewer
½ January 18, 2012
Gritty portrayal of coming out as a teenager - about finding yourself, whatever that takes, and about the number of ways that the vulnerability that comes along with sexual self-discovery will be exploited by others. There was some over-acting and some bad poetry, and the budget is too obviously small, but more than similar films, Pariah puts the threats to its main character in the forefront by showing all kinds of different relationships and what power over this teen could mean for the manipulator. Not a perfect film, but a raw and striking one with a standout performance by Adepero Oduye. Take a chance on it, it's well-worth seeing.
Bill D 2007
Super Reviewer
½ January 1, 2012
"Pariah," from first-time writer/director Dee Rees, doesn't break much artistic ground. It tells the same gay/lesbian coming-out story that we've seen a million times. But it's told particularly well and from within a black urban context, which I don't believe has been done before.

It also goes a bit deeper into the hearts and minds of the homophobic parents than typically is done, which was great. Unfortunately, it only scratches those surfaces. Kim Wayans, who of course has a long history in comedy, shows she has major dramatic talent, playing the homophobic mother of the main character. The cast is universally good, but Wayans is the stand-out.

The main character is a black teenage girl in Brooklyn going through the coming-out process. She has fully come out to herself as a lesbian, and she has even found her way into a lesbian circle of friends. She even frequents a women's night club. But she hasn't told Mom or Dad about any of this, both of whom are homophobic. Mom is particularly venomous in her hatred of gays and lesbians. You can see that Dad, a detective in the NYPD, in his heart of hearts is not a bigot.

Thrown into the mix to complicate things a little bit is a bisexual girl eager to have lesbian experiences to explore herself. But she tosses lesbians aside like useless candy wrappers after she's had her fun.

If I were going to give Dee Rees advice, I would say this:

Ms. Rees, in "Pariah" you started digging into the parent characters with some real psychological and artistic depth. I encourage you to go more deeply in that direction. I think your true gifts as an artist lie there. I would give anything to see a sequel where you explore what happened to that mother and what she's really fighting. You hint that her husband is beginning to stray, but I think there's more in there. Help us see it.

Remember when that great schoolteacher tells Alike that she could "go deeper" with her poetry? You could go deeper with your films. I know you could.
Super Reviewer
November 21, 2011
A lesbian teenager in Brooklyn leads an uncomfortable double life, trying to hide her lifestyle from her conservative parents while struggling to find a suitable partner for her first sexual relationship. Excellent acting salvages a well-intentioned but familiar script that occasionally drags.
Super Reviewer
½ February 25, 2012
"Pariah" opens with 17-year old Alike(Adepero Oduye) using a fake ID to get into a women's nightclub where she hangs out with her friend Laura(Pernell Walker). When Laura tries to hook her up with another woman, Alike drags her out of there. Alike's being out past her curfew would not be a problem if her younger sister Sharonda(Sahra Mellesse) did not do her sisterly duty to rat her out to their mother(Kim Wayans). In fact, she blames her nocturnal activity entirely on Laura, who is working on her GED, and wants Alike to make more socially acceptable friends like Bina(Aasha Davis) who she introduces to her at church.

Even though writer-director Dee Rees shows a lot of promise with her first feature "Pariah," it is also much too rough to fully pass muster with subplots going off in all directions and not enough experience to tie it all together. Alike is not only lesbian but also coming to terms with her gender identity, as she always appears to be changing clothes to and from home. That's not to mention the Misadventure of the Amazing Strap-On. Maybe in 1994, this all might have seemed fresh and enough to go on but not so much now. While many elements might ring true, others come off as cliche, such as Alike's poetry, and others just feel false. For example, no mother, much less a churchgoing one, would buy clothing for her teenage daughter that would 'accentuate her figure.' Feminine might be the word you are looking for.
Super Reviewer
November 13, 2011
There has been much reductive talk about how PARIAH is PRECIOUS 2011. While they both deal with a protagonist trying to break free of her stifling family situation, PARIAH is much more gentle in tone and tells the tale of a young, tomboy lesbian navigating her way through life. Adepero Oduye has such charm as Alike, a smart high school student who doesn't quite know what to do with herself yet. Kim Wayans, who has excelled in comedy in the past, is striking and vivid as her less-than-supportive mother, while Charles Parnell is charming and wonderful as her father. Pernell Walker plays a character you don't get to see often in film, the butch lesbian friend, while Aasha Davis has the impossible role of a friend who turns into a love interest, and then has a strange, out-of-left-field turn. She charms despite the odd transition.

I found myself caring very much for this cast of characters, mainly because of the refreshingly articulate way they expressed themselves. It's a breath of fresh air to see a so-called "urban" (hate that term) drama where the people in it seem to care about music, books, and each other.

If I had a complaint, it would be about the cinematography. Although there are beautiful images to be had here, the hand-held work felt annoying at times. Sometimes stillness, especially with a main character who lives so well in it, is the right way to go.

That aside, this could be the sleeper hit of 2011. A film with a beating heart and soul.
Super Reviewer
January 12, 2012
Pariah is a good solid drama outlining the trials and tribulations of a teenager who is coming out within an unaccepting black family. Tender at times and shocking, it has a tremendous deal of freshness to it.
Cameron W. Johnson
Super Reviewer
September 16, 2012
It's about a black lesbian trying to fit in, so of course Spike Lee is, at the very least, producing. With subject matter like this, either Spike Lee was gonna be attached or Tyler Perry, though either way, the point is that this film is evidently worthy of ending up in the hands of some major black filmmaker, though thankfully not directorial hands, because while Lee is definately a better director than Perry (Those are some ironically quite white last names), he's not too much more subtle. Really, I'm surprised Lee didn't at least pull a Steve Spielberg in "Poltergeist" type deal where he pushes Dee Rees out of the way and directs this thing himself, not just because it's his kind of subject matter, but because this film is perhaps too short. Granted, I don't quite want it to be the two-hour or two-and-a-half-hour epic portrait on black lesbians that Lee probably would have made it, but maybe this film could have stuck around a little bit longer, though I might just be saying that because I like this film quite a bit. It's certainly, or at least apparently the best film with a Wayans sibling attached that in a while, so I guess I may as well take what I can get. I say apparently, rather than certainly, because the term "certainly" insinuates that I've actually seen something with a Wayans sibling in a while. No, now that I think about it, I'm switching back to certainly, because I'm hearing that the Wayans siblings haven't really been knocking things out in recent years, and because this film certainly raises quite the standard, though not exactly one that reaches too considerably high, for although this film is a good one, its briefness isn't exactly its only problem.

Okay, first off, if I could just go ahead and throw this out there: the soundtrack is absolutely horrible! There, now that I've gotten that out of the way and ensured myself an easy sleep tonight, the film is a very down-to-earth one, with carefully structured realism and a naturalistic atmosphere, which is great and all, except for the fact that real life is a bit boring, - even when it deals with situations as potent as the ones tackled in this film - or at least not exactly built to be a case of beginning, middle and end, thus this film is left with little narrative structure, as well as with little refreshingly cinematic spark to its realist actions, characterization and dialogue, and is left realistically limping along with little feel for progression, due to its being realistic to fault and to the point of being a bit bland. I suppose you get used to this structure reasonably quickly, and just enough to stick with the film, yet the fact of the matter is that the film gets to be a bit blandly carried away with its realism, leaving plot to suffer, though not as much as pacing, which further goes hurt by the film's being slow to begin with. Now, the film isn't necessarily dull, yet its atmosphere is dry and its pacing is steady to the point of being supplementary to the blandness that goes spawned from the film's over-realism, while additional damage to the pacing comes from repetition, because whether it be the film's keeping faithful to the reality of routine or just lazy writing, the film sometimes finds itself treading in circles. Still, with all of its repetition and limping along, one of the biggest problems with this film is its simply being just plain too short, clocking in at under 90 minutes and not taking quite enough time to fully flesh out its story and characters, let alone sell them firmly enough for the film to leave you with all that much of a thorough impression. As I'll touch upon later, what this film does do right with the limited time it has is sharply effective enough for the final product to leave an impression, yet even with that, this film still feels a bit too short, sweet and to the point, not quite putting enough time or effort into exposition, much less compensation for the film's plummets into blandness on the wings of slowness, limited narrative focus and altogether being realist to a fault, thus leaving the final product to run the risk of collapsing into underwhelmingness. Of course, that just makes this film's keeping consistent with its being engaging all the more impressive, for although the film and its methods are flawed, this film does more than enough with very little to satisfy, which is what you can say about the restrained yet rewarding work of cinematographer Bradford Young.

Being very much an independent project, the film finds its technical and artistic sharpness tainted by funds limitations, yet with what he has to work with, Bradford Young delivers on lovely photography, drawing from the picture much detail and definition, complimented by a beautifully bleak lighting and colorizing that, when emphasized at just the right moment, makes for some gorgeously gritty shots, which break up a consistent degree of handsomeness that can be found within the cinematography throughout the film. Young's photography reflects and supplements the effectiveness of the film's grimy thematic depths in a fashion that is both aesthetically and emotionally attractive, which helps the film in sustaining your attention, while Dee Rees secures your investment through her screenplay, alone, particularly when it comes to the very realism that also hurts this film. As I said, the film gets to be a bit lost in its time down to earth, where too much realism leaves blandness to set in and little in the way of narrative structure to rise, and in a situation like that, - where you're film is left a bit bland and with very little actual plot - you're going to need the compensation that this film provides, whether it be near-snapily clever yet down-to-earth dialogue, or simply the intrigue in beholding how much this script goes graced by much thorough attention to detail and authenticity, of which, there is enough for this film to back up its thematic intentions. The film is a portrait on the youth's pursuit for embracement of his or her inner being and true identity, or in this case, the very contemporaneously relevant story of a teenaged girl's struggles as an outgoing yet still afraid lesbian, and such a topic can be and has been portrayed with far too much broadness and simplification, and even as something of a gimmick, being that it is so contemporaneously relevant, yet this film transcends past those potential missteps and stands as effective in its portrayal of these worthy themes, being audaciously authentic, but restrained to where it's not so much bearing down on you with message, as much as it's simply telling an engrossing and provocative story. Dee Rees nearly undercuts her accomplishments with more than a few missteps that reflect her limited experience in filmmaking, yet the point is that she does make her share of accomplishments, and plenty of them, not just as writer, but as director, as she subtly but surely places her heart into this project, and forges the compelling characterization and engrossing emotional resonance that define this film as a moving and thought-provoking drama, which wouldn't be as effective as it is without the inspiration in both Dee Rees' efforts and certain performances. Kim Wayans isn't given much to do until the final act of the film, but when material does finally arrive, she delivers on unexpectedly potent emotional range and steals the show, while leading lady Adepero Oduye firmly owns the show, planting subtle yet striking emotion and depth into her very human and rather layered presence, to where she bonds with the Alike character and delivers an engaging lead performance that may not be written to have quite as much material as you would expect it to, but still helps in making this breakout for Oduye a promising one. The film stands to be stronger, and there's no getting around that, as the film's faults do indeed do some damage to be a seemingly light as they are, yet what we're ultimately with as a final product is a film that transcends its missteps and stands a consistently engaging, with moments in which truly resonantes, until it is ultimately left standing as worthwhile.

In conclusion, the film's over-attention to realism leaves narrative structure to take quite a bit of damage, sometimes almost to the point of dissipating, thus creating a kind of blandness, which goes intensified by slowness that is, in and of itself, intensified by repetition that pads this film out, though not quite far enough, as the final product comes out too short to flesh things out as much as it should, yet ultimately compensates for that through striking and tonally supplementary cinematography by Bradford Young, as well as by inspired and generally intriguingly authentic writing by Dee Rees, whose just as inspired directorial execution provides emotional resonance, amplified by the engrossing lead performance by Adepero Oduye that helps in making Dee Rees' "Pariah" a compelling and satisfying study on self-embracement in the face of uncertainty.

3/5 - Good
Super Reviewer
½ September 1, 2012
Heartbreak is the one word to describe the experience while watching "Pariah". Adepero Oduye gives a very compelling performance filled with vigor and vulnerability as a teenager embracing her sexuality steadily and stoically as her parents begin to give her grief about it. There is this rawness and poignancy to the film, and with its good use of concise dialogue, heartfelt poetry, and a dose of urban youth culture, "Pariah" elevates the gay coming-of-age story to a whole new level.
Super Reviewer
½ December 19, 2011
Pariah is the most anticipated watch I've had in awhile, while the subject matter of a lesbian in the Bronx doesn't particularly interest me, the trailer was executed with such class that I thought the film would be equivalent. That's perhaps the films greatest disappointment, the lack of class, the music choice of the trailer was Doing my Thing, while in the film it was club music. While the plot does go back to more traditional standards towards the end, the film tries to shock to often. I understand that Dee Rees was attempting to show a Pariah trying to find her way and eventually reaching it; but the leap was to sudden. The writing was realistic, and there are plenty of stunning debuts, but Pariah comes together as all around mediocre.
Super Reviewer
½ May 2, 2012
With an almost poetic quality about it, Dee Rees' coming of age story "Pariah" is a brief and engaging short story. No matter the stance you take on the issue of homosexuality, while the film is obviously not against it, the movie is also smart to not just explain why someone might be gay, but instead simply gives a glimpse. A glimpse in terms of what it feels like to deal with the emotions of knowing you are not as everyone else is or how others expect you to be. It is a slightly vulgar film that does not shy away from the truths about gay relationships. It would still be awkward to watch if this were a man and woman relationship, the fact that its about a lesbian seems to make the movie feel like it actually has bigger balls (no joke intended). The story follows Alike, portrayed by a wonderful Adepero Oduye as she struggles to lead a double life. She wants to be like her friend Laura who is open about her homosexuality and free to live as she wishes (though there is certainly turmoil within her as well) but Alike is slow to embrace this truth about herself and finds it ever harder to tell her parents. There are issues within the household and there are different avenues explored by all parties cooperating in the film, but what it boils down to is a raw honest look at the journey one had to take to feel confident in herself. This is not a place for personal opinion, but despite feeling put off at times by the way in which the main character acted towards those who care about her I was also surprised that in the resolution how they reacted to her. Clearly this is a personal story for the writer/director, but it is only one side of a story and the film would have done well to be more fleshed out. But for a personal take, it accomplishes its goals and more importantly, gets its point across.
Super Reviewer
½ April 22, 2012
Just amazing. One of the best films of 2011.
July 28, 2015
this movie is really good especially whenni saw that cute lightskin chick I almost fell out lol but it was really good I enjoyed the movie
½ April 22, 2015
Although it adheres to the formula that comes with its genre, "Pariah" is a compelling and necessary study of a black, gay woman having to fight against prejudice to find happiness and acceptance.
May 13, 2014
New Directors '11. Vibrantly shot + directed this was well received at ND/NF. Will have a big buzz when it's released in fall
October 26, 2013
Pretty fantastic as far as coming-of-age dramas go. Pariah was perfectly cast, I was understandably skeptical because all three lead actresses, Adepero Oduye, Pernell Walker, and Aasha Davis, were all over 30 at the time of filming playing underage teens. They did pretty god damn good. Adepero was seamless as Alike - you really believe her here. Pernell played a very convincing openly gay woman - I'd tip my hat to her if I wore hats. Aasha Davis, who I love, was underused but terrific with what she had to work with as a character. I would recommend Pariah to my friends but I likely would not go out of my way to see it again myself.
June 30, 2013
Anchored by staggering performances, Dee Rees' PARIAH is an honest and clear-eyed "coming out" tale that never lowers itself to cheap sentimentality or easy emotions. Ostensibly a gay coming out story of a young woman in NYC facing her parents, her friends, and most importantly herself, the real "coming out" saga is the strength it takes for anyone to become the person they want to be. Bravo to Dee Rees for pulling off such a genuine film with a fantastic ending that is at once shockingly sad and joyfully triumphant. PARIAH is truly wonderful.
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