Heartbreak opens onto the sunrise.
For even breaking is opening.
And I am broken.
Broken to the new light without,
Open to the possibilities within,
See the love shine in through my cracks.
See the light shine out through me.
I am broken!
I am open!
I'm broken, open!
See the love light shining through me:
shining through my cracks; through the gaps.
My spirit takes journey.
My spirit takes flight.
Cannot have risen otherwise.
And I am not running;
I am choosing.
Running is not a choice, from the breaking.
Breaking is freeing.
Broken is freedom.
I am not broken.
I am free!
It's understandable. Everyone around Alike is aware of her sexual orientation, but they aren't overt about it. Her parents, grumpy policeman Arthur (Charles Parnell) and the conservative Audrey (Kim Wayans), have put two and two together, but uttering the eventual four might cause an eruption of disbelief. Alike wants to break free from the clutches of the closet she is shackled to, and "Pariah" is a snapshot of that prison break. With her 4.0 GPA and stirring demeanor, she will, no doubt, succeed in life - yet this small window of her 18th year feels like an eternity to this charismatic young woman.
"Pariah" is a coming-of-age story of sorts, but unlike its sappy peers it has something real, something rousing. Its story could be applied to anyone's life, regardless of sexuality, because it is a film that magnifies that awkward transition in high school where the kid starts to realize that their adult wings are sprouting while their parents, in denial, want to clip them so they can have their precious baby safely in their nest for just a few more years. In Alike's (pronounced ah-lee-kay) case, that evolution is infinitely more dramatic. She is close to becoming the woman she's always wanted to be, but in order to do so she must come out to her friends and family. It could destroy the comfortable repression that hangs over her life, but if she doesn't, she'll be someone else's version of Alike while the real one is confined to a psychological jail cell.
Dee Rees, in her directorial debut, handles "Pariah" with sensitivity and a strong sense of affection that makes us care deeply about Alike's struggle with her identity. It's a semi-autobiographical work for Rees, and the result is something even more intimate than the best of memoirs. The film is directed with a flair for color and soul, accenting its walls with flavorful music and ripening the developments of its characters by giving us a chance to get to know them individually. Alike's story resonates with such power because Rees takes the time to study the people she will eventually come out to, spending scenes with them so that we can consider their ticks, their neuroses. If it were made by another filmmaker, perhaps Alike's parents would come across as the typical over-reactionary adults that befall movies with a similar premise. Not here. Rees is so delicate with her characters that even the harshest of a reaction rings with sympathy because we know, and, more importantly, understand, the reason for it.
But of course, "Pariah"'s tearjerking sensibilities wouldn't have the same potency without Adepero Oduye, who portrays Alike with virulent sweetness. Subjects of a coming-of-age film frequently flutter about in copycatted air, slightly awkward, needing an adult for guidance. Oduye, though, isn't an ordinary actress, and "Pariah" isn't an ordinary film. As Alike, authenticity comes naturally; she is not so much acting here and she is becoming her character. There isn't a need for an Oscar-begging freakout to prove just how wonderful of a performance this is: Oduye's painless likability makes the urgency of Alike's dilemma all the more heartrending.
When she experiences her first heartbreak, we cry with her. When she gets accepted into a prestigious college program, we cheer with her. "Pariah" is moving in a number of ways; few films are as ardent as this one.
Written and directed by Dee Rees, starring Alike(Adepero Oduye) or Lee for short, hanging out at an all girls bar with a close friend named, Laura(Pernell Walker). By the time Lee gets home by bus which was late at night, we then see her change her clothes again before being hounded by her mother, Audrey(Kim Wayans) at home. While Alike's mother prefers her to dress like a lady, Alike really prefers to dress like a tomboy. Viewers can only suspect but we won't say.
Watching this movie is like watching a very personal journal that to some, being 'indifferent' can be made into a crime itself regardless whether they're law abiding, harmless or non violent. Although viewers suspect Alike's choice of lifestyle, it's not shown as immediate but very gradual, and not on an exploited fashion often shown on other films and on adult films. Viewers don't really need to see how indifferent that person really is since to do that would be easy, but we do need to witness the challenges of being one. In my opinion, this has to be one of the most important films in today's generation since it's about acceptance and moving forward.
3 out of 4 stars