If you are a student at UW, odds are you are a straight, white, upper-middle class American. You may have grown up in suburbia, and your biggest problem probably is keeping your New Year’s resolutions. If more than one of the above applies to you, then it may be a good idea to periodically watch a movie that shows the realistic struggle of someone that has things a little harder. Pariah may not be groundbreaking or life changing, but it certainly offers some fresh perspective.
Set in New York, “Pariah” is centered around a 17-year-old black girl named Alike who struggles to find her identity as a lesbian. Those with enriched vocabularies already know that pariah is another word for outcast, and the theme of the movie is very true to its title. Starting off still in the closet, Alike secretly spends time with her supportive, out-of-the-closet friend Laura going to lesbian clubs, purchasing strap-ons (though oddly she’s never been kissed), and trying to find a girlfriend. However, at home and school she changes clothing and behavior to better fit in with expectations. It’s a challenging life and I found myself empathizing with her struggle.
The movie is a little slow, with most of the plot being revealed through dialogue. The camera generally remains steady and background music is used sparingly. The result is that there is a distinct realism to the movie, which ends up being one of the strongest aspects of it. However, it also made the movie feel a little quiet and dull, and I found myself thinking it could have been paced better. That being said, at 86 minutes it does not overstay its welcome and you won’t find yourself eyeing the theater exit. The cast is made up of lesser-known actors and I must say they did a fantastic job. Dialogue is natural, snappy, and, at times, quite funny. While not a comedy, there are certainly some parts that are good laughs. Much of the humor is fairly sexual and approaches the line without ever crossing it (at least not my “line”).
There really isn’t much to complain about with the movie, and yet I felt it lacked something. My favorite movies are the ones that I catch myself thinking about days or even weeks later and that won’t be happening with “Pariah”. This is likely because I have little personal interest in the struggle of Alike. Some might say that it’s my problem for not caring more about gender, sexuality, and race issues, and that the movie is fantastic. However, I tend to go the other way and say that it is the movie’s job to make me care. So in that way, I didn’t enjoy the movie much, but I can see how someone who has had more personal experience in these sorts of matters might really love it. My favorite scenes were actually some of the family interactions. One in particular comes to mind in which Alike and her father converse, dancing around issues that they wish to address. Both are afraid to be direct, and hope that the other will just confess something. It was quite well done, and while it can’t carry the movie, scenes like this made the movie fun to watch.
Overall, I enjoyed Pariah. It was different, and even bold at times. However, nothing about it really spoke to me and I couldn’t convince myself that I’d be willing to pay to see it. This makes it difficult to recommend. I have to think that most readers are like me in that they’d enjoy watching it, but might not be able to justify paying for it. People who are passionate about gender and sexuality issues should certainly consider seeing it, as should those who really need a break from the Hollywood mold. However, I don’t believe it has much appeal to a mainstream audience.
The Verdict: Fantastically executed but only recommended for those passionate about gender and sexuality issues.