Pariah (Dee Rees, 2011)

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Every time the LGBT+ film festivals come around, I tend to give something of a groan. Sure, there’s the occasional Tangerine, the occasional Tropical Malady, but the grand majority are always mumblecore-esque coming-of-age romantic drama snoozefests. So, I hadn’t really be in much of a hurry to check out Pariah – a coming-of-age (semi)-romantic drama – any time soon.

Pariah‘s story assuredly does not take us anywhere new: the same largely-uninitiated protagonist finding her feet, the same outgoing best friend who’s more interwoven with the community but is on a lower rung of society, the same repressive, shouty mother, the same kid sister, the same creative outlet, the same supportive teacher etc. However, adherence to generic conventions only limits a film’s originality on the level of narrative; Pariah still manages to win on all other counts. Indeed, I would have described any other film with so much that we have seen so many times before as cliché; thus Pariah existing in my mind as simply “a bit tropey” is, frankly, a feat in and of itself.

Pariah‘s highest achievement is assuredly its deft creation of a believable universe, using Brooklyn’s geography as a referential chart for the emotional topography, traversed by so many characters that, even when some of the younger stars’ acting is a little – and, I do stress, a little – patchy in places, all the other formal elements of Pariah align to bolster the actors into a compelling and distinctly real performance. That said, on a wider level, I can’t help but feel somewhat irked by the film’s promotion of an already very much extant suspicion of bisexual/non-monosexual queer orientation.

Pariah is by no stretch of the imagination a game-changer, but its mixture of attractive cinematography, uniformly impressive performances, great soundtrack and, yes, elevation of a young Black queer experience helps it play the game awfully well.

 

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