Alike (Adepero Oduye) is a 17-year-old lesbian virgin whose life, like the lives of many 17-year-olds, is split between two existences. Her friends know about one and her parents know about the other. These existences each come with their own costumes. The first is made up of baggy layers and baseball caps while the second consists of “cute tops” and church dresses. It becomes clear, however, that Alike doesn’t fit wholly into either world. For as much time as she spends switching clothes and constructing shaky alibis, it’s too bad that the beautiful, straight-A student with a love for conscious hip-hop is having so much trouble fitting in.
Writer and director Dee Rees studied at NYU’s Tisch School and participated in the Sundance Institute’s Screenwriters and Directors Labs before shooting this, her first feature-length narrative film. Her first feature-length documentary, Eventual Salvation, premiered on the Sundance Channel in 2009.
With Pariah, Rees succeeds in constructing a moving coming-of-age story for her distinctive and captivating characters. Her performers, even the ones playing minor roles, handle themselves in front of the camera with composure and confidence. Add the film’s appealing cinematography and its ear-catching soundtrack (composed almost entirely of female hip-hop artists) and everything seems to be looking up for Pariah.
But while the film (and its director) never bites off more than it can chew, a weak third act makes one wish it had tried for a bit more. Every turn the narrative makes is believable and the first two acts never seem to hint at anything more explosive, but the film’s climax is underwhelming and its resolution is a little too nice. But even with its minimal faults, Pariah is definitely worth watching, rewatching, and even recommending to friends.