Tuesday, May 8, 2012

My So-Called "Pariah"

Dee Rees' Pariah is an incredibly graceful, sophisticated and warmhearted depiction of the horrors of being completely outside of where people think you should be, and then finding a way to make whatever you can work for you.  Adepero Oduye plays Alike, the main character, a high school girl with a secret.  And yes I know how stupid that sounds.  Oh yeah:  she's African American too.  All this "otherness" and melodrama could come off like propagandists trying too hard to shove Homophobic White America! in your face.  But in all actuality there's nothing exotic or melodramatic about Oduye's "pariah."  To Rees' credit, this movie is as simple and earth-bound and clear-eyed as a Wanda Sykes monolog.  Oduye gives the main character an innocence and knowingness that makes political-correctness melt away.  She can look you in the eye and let you know she is what she is so please fuck off.  And while that may sound kind of goofy and strident, this movie has such a refreshingly light touch it reminded me of My So-Called Life, the TV show that showcased Claire Danes as a goofy, sweet sort of "outcast" back in 1994.  Pariah focuses on a true outcast, and yet has that same warm hour-long drama shimmer and delight, that same sort of glamorous hurt.  You want to crawl up next to Oduye in this movie -- she is so perfect and beautiful and heroic.  And Kim Wayans as her crazy-assed mom really delivers a performance that contrasts perfectly with Oduye's.  Wayans is shrill and terrified, Oduye hurt but always looking forward.  Charles Purnell completes the trifecta as the cop/dad, authoritative but loving.  I love this movie.  It makes "outsiderness" disappear without losing track of what it does to people.