Homosexuality is a topic often explored in cinema. This is because it simultaneously provides interesting characters with an inner struggle who try to find themselves and cope with the discriminating world around them and because it provides for interesting societal commentary, given the rampant homophobia of many of the world’s citizens. Pariah is the latest movie to give the topic a go and it’s weak. It’s not terrible, but it doesn’t do enough to reach the thematic depth of other similar movies. At a mere 86 minutes (less without credits), it doesn’t give itself enough time to do or say anything profound.
The movie follows Alike, played by relative newcomer Adepero Oduye, a 17 year old virgin lesbian who is one person at home and another when out on the town. At home, her strict, more traditional mother urges her to find a boyfriend, but she doesn’t yet know that Alike isn’t interested in boys, as she goes to great lengths to hide it. She leaves the house for school in a typical female outfit and changes on the way into something that suits her better. Before she gets home, she switches back again. But the more she hangs out with her friend Laura, played by Pernell Walker, the more suspicious her mother becomes, which will ultimately lead them down two very different roads.
That synopsis probably makes Pariah seem more intellectually stimulating than it really is. The mother in the movie, played by Kim Wayans, is held up as the villain, but they rarely take the time to develop her villainy. Her negative behavior and rejection of her daughter is unforgivable, not to mention the one moment of physical abuse, but all of that is piled on the end. The moments leading up to that don’t even hint at what may be coming. As far as the viewer can tell, her mother is no different than any other mother. She wants her daughter to grow up with good moral values and takes her to church on a regular basis. She tells Alike not to hang out with Laura because she thinks Laura is a bad influence. When you see the two together as they visit various sketchy clubs, you realize she’s right, though we’re supposed to look at her as vindictive and unreasonable for thinking so. Until the end, her villainy is forced and I wasn’t buying it.
In fact, everything is stacked near the end in a lame attempt to bring forth some type of emotion. For instance, Laura’s relationship with her mother isn’t even mentioned or shown until the final third of the movie and it’s just so hard to care. But the question is why should you if even the screenplay doesn’t seem to? No characters are built and the story doesn’t allow them the growth they need. By the time Alike begins to discover into her own sexuality, the movie is in the process of wrapping up and the potential for an interesting story is lost. That’s not to say it doesn’t make some good points. It does, but they’re hit more like bullet points that are missing an explaining paragraph.
Nevertheless, the performances are good and although I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Oduye is a godsend to cinema like some critics, she impresses with what little she’s given to work with. All the actors do, but they’re stuck playing characters that are uninteresting and stereotypical. Lots of words can be used to describe Pariah, but, as sad as it is to say, “thoughtful” is not one of them.
Pariah receives 2/5