Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Who Am I?

The coming of age drama is a staple of cinema. For one thing, everyone has had a childhood and had to figure out where they fit in. It already has a built in connection. But finding your place in the world can feel even more difficult when you come to realize that you're different than most people. Which is why so many LGBT films are about the process of coming out and finding your true self as a young adult. And while I can think of a couple of good gay films that illustrate this (My Beautiful Launderette, Beautiful ThingGet Real), the only movie I can think of about adolescent lesbians is Heavenly Creatures. Which is a great movie, but is more about unhealthy fantasy and murder–something most young lesbians aren't exactly coming to terms with. Which is why I had such high hopes for this week's entry in The Film Experience's Hit Me With Your Best Shot series, the coming of age drama, Pariah.

The film played at Sundance last year and won an award for Best Cinematography (which is fitting for this series about the best visuals of a film) and star Adepero Oduye received an Independent Spirit Award nomination for her portrayal of Alike (Le), the young woman discovering her sexuality and grappling with her family and society's reactions. While there is much to admire in the film (how often does a film focus on a young black woman, let alone a lesbian?), it never really took off for me. A lot of the performances didn't feel authentic to me and most of the time everyone sounded as if they were reading off cue cards. And for such a serious subject matter, it always seemed slight to me. The film clocks in at less than an hour and a half. I felt it could have taken the time to indulge and let scenes settle in more. It seemed to gloss over one plot point after another so quickly that I never felt like I got to know who these characters were.

The only time I really felt I was getting a glimpse into who this girl was happens in the early moments in the film. After a night clubbing with her friend, Le is left alone on the bus. Before she gets home, she transforms herself from the tomboy she is into the perfect daughter her mother wants her to be:

The transformation happens in less than a minute and the lyrics of the song that play telling us, "you don't know who I am", we learn all we need to know about Le's situation. Her reflection in the bus window just further illustrates the double life that she is leading. And it's the first time we as an audience get to see the person behind the facade. To witness the struggle she faces everyday. 

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