'Pariah' review: A story we don't often see, told like many that we do

RedEye movie critic

**1/2 (out of four)

After seeing “Pariah,” you should not be surprised to hear that it garnered positive attention at the Sundance Film Festival. But the New York-set indie drama rides distinctive wheels on a familiar track so that naturalistic performances only go so far, and conventional plotting can’t inhibit reality from making its mark.

Newcomer and Independent Spirit Award nominee for best actress Adepero Oduye stars as Alike (that’s pronounced A-lee-kay, but she goes by “Lee”), a smart high school junior who’s come out to herself and her best friend (Pernell Walker) but not to her parents (Kim Wayans, Charles Parnell). Of course Lee’s new friendship with Bina (Aasha Davis) takes her to new places and then even more difficult emotional territory, and of course Lee’s more accepted by her late-working, maybe-cheating detective dad than by her God-fearing mom.

Yet despite writer-director Dee Rees’ devotion to the expected, “Pariah” presents a difficult coming-of-age story without pushing its struggles toward phony melodrama. The now 33-year-old Oduye is great as a 17-year-old struggling with her identity and trying to be ready for what she knows she wants.

There’s also inherent value in simply paying attention to a character like Alike; It goes without saying that I can count on one hand the number of films you can see in a theater in which a young girl laments that the strap-on penis she has is white, not black.

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mpais@tribune.com. @mattpais

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