A provocative, fresh look at a more unexamined side of black culture is Dee Rees' semi-autobiographical Pariah with solid use of its Brooklyn setting.
Starring Adepero Oduye, Kim Wayans, and Charles Parnell, the director opens up her acclaimed short film in ways that has some powerful moments that resonate (perhaps for some cineastes) in similar ways to an applauded Precious. Hopefully, it will attract a more sizable audience in and outside urban centers, even if a fair number of those mature enough may have resistance because of their own personal circumstances.
A sexual coming-of-age is delicately drawn by Rees allowing for a wrenching portrait of 17-year-old Alike (sounds like a-leek) by Oduye as a personal, even social identity crisis unfolds.
Alike's demanding father Arthur (Parnell) and religious mother Audrey (Wayans) aren't privy to her sexuality, unlike sassy younger sister Sharondah, as Sahra Mellesse instills some drollness into the proceedings. How Oduye tries to fit in at school and clubs with her friends including faithful, tomboy close friend Laura, a fine Pernell Walker, still leaves her uneasy in this important stage of her life. The well-written story and confident helming hinges on Oduye's attraction to the more cautious, easygoing Bina (Aasha Davis), whose mother is Audrey's friend from church.
The characterizations are smartly rendered in what is brief for something full-length. Not all the subplots (especially the one with Arthur) connect as fully like Laura's throughout the arc of main body as Alike and Bina's relationship to moving, even startling effect.
Rees has the kind of control over her material that lets certain scenes work from visages and glancing, as well as spare dialogue. When the line readings are more frequent, nearly all the bulk of it seems out of place. A welcome instance of levity has Sharondah intruding on an experimenting Alike. The parents are grappling with their own issues as Wayans and Parnell make the most of what are usually stock roles, while the breakout work by the naturalness Oduye wouldn't be what it is without the way Walker and Davis inhabit their parts, in particular.
Thus, for what is a pretty intense, gritty authentic drama, Rees works hard to bring beauty to a contemporary underground scene with her sound crew to propulsive effect on character and narrative rhythms. She gets a creative palette of hues from the distinctive, creative lensing from Bradford Young, increasingly bathed near the close in placidly brightening amber, that helps make for a fairly unpredictable, atmospheric, even precious coming-out.