Sometimes you come across stories that are so beautifully written and well-acted that you decide for yourself to never put up with something mediocre ever again, something that has no stakes and won't leave any traces once it's gone. This is how I felt about Pariah: stunned, overwhelmed, but not in an exhausted way. The film looks beautiful - the way the camera captures the actrors, the design of the sets. It has one of the most amazing soundtracks, a collection of amazing artists, every single song on it opens up a rabbit hole of wanting to find out more and dig deeper.
But the best things about Pariah are the story itself and the acting. Alike (Adepero Oduye) is a seveteen year old high school student. She's occasionally shown in class and seems mostly disinterested, even though she is an A student, but she lightens up during her creative writing class, excitedly giving her poems to her teacher to read before class, then performing them for the class room,confident in a way she isn't anywhere else. When she goes to a local gay bar with her best friend (Pernell Walker), she seems insecure in her own skin - and we soon find out that she isn't out to her parents, who are dealing with the fall-out of their marriage slowly falling apart. Her mother disapproves of her best friend (Laura is hard-working and supportive, but was apparently kicked out by her own mother and now lives with her sister). An attempt to force Alike into a new friendship with the more acceptable (aka not butch) Bina (Aasha Davis) threatens to backfire until the two realize that they share their passion for music and writing, and even though it doesn't end well, the tentative moments of excitement over having found someone they can relate to on that level are among the most beautiful in the film.
When everything falls apart violently, Alike realizes that the poetry, and language, are so essential because through expressing her grief and fear and anger, she can find a way out and break free. "My spirit takes journey, my spirit takes flight, could not 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." This is by far the best movie to come out last year and one of the most relevant and incredible I have seen in a long time.
2011, directed by Dee Rees, starring Adepero Oduye, Pernell Walker, Aasha Davis, Sahra MEllesse, Kim Wayans, Shamika Cotton, Zabryna Guevara.
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