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Pariah: Powerful Coming-of-Age Drama
Powerful doesn’t even begin to describe this film. It starts off innocuously enough, with a girl, Alike (Oduye), wanting to lose her virginity. The first half passes in a haze of music, poetry and hormones; a teenager grappling with her sexuality or more accurately, with the reactions it elicits from her family. Every now and again a detail is dropped that subtly adds to the tension and shifts the film’s tone, showing just how precariously balanced her life is. By the end, Alike has to deal with the heartbreaking act of coming out that, even though expected, is still a kick in the gut.
Pariah’s an example of first-rate filmmaking where a conventional story still manages to completely engage you.
Oduye’s portrayal of Alike is fantastic. Alike’s not at the mercy of the people around her yet not immune to their opinions and abuse either. She’s at peace with herself and fully in control of her life no matter what fate may throw at her. The issue of the story isn’t whether or not she’s a lesbian; it’s about coming out to her family and the consequences it may entail. They know she’s gay but since she’s never spelt it out for them, they remain in denial praying that it’s just a phase while dancing around the topic and actively keeping her away from her best friend, Laura (Walker).
Her parents are played by Wayans, as her mum, and Parnell, as her dad. Both characters are deeply flawed yet as a testament to their acting skills, you can’t hate either of them. Both of them do deeply detestable, unforgiveable things, Wayans more so than Parnell, yet both the actors really bring out the humanity in their characters.
The director in general does a great job of highlighting homophobia as the real threat that it is as opposed to a caricature. She also manages to show the different kinds of motives behind homophobic behaviour; whether it’s people’s religious beliefs, feeling threatened by unconventional femininities or just being a passive witness to hateful behaviour and allowing it to pass unchallenged. And it’s this even handed handling of the characters that makes every single one of them so believable. Each character is given both the time and material to add to the story and become memorable.
Despite being an indie film, the details - such as the characters’ clothing choices that reveal a lot about the characters’ state of mind at that point in time - were plainly agonized over and it really pays off. The film both looks and sounds fantastic. It has an incredible soundtrack which is almost entirely female dominated. Heavy on the hip hop but with a fair helping of rock oriented tracks as well; it’s made up entirely of songs by artists that you’ve probably never heard of but it is truly awesome – this coming from a person who is generally not a fan of indie music.
Pariah’s a gem. It’s genuine and human in ways that are rare in fictional films and it touches you no matter your orientation. It may profile a niche concern but it deserves to be seen by as wide and diverse an audience as possible.
They would try anything as if they had no fear of failure. They weren’t afraid of screwing up because the process and the act of creation were the important parts; if the product ended up sucking it was no big deal because they’d already be at work on the next piece. At least that’s the vibe that the documentary gives off. It also helps that the modern day, grown-up No Wavers seem every bit as cool as they did back then.
Titled from a popular term which describes the early transfer of a young offender from a juvenile detention facility to an adult penitentiary, Starred Up is by no means an easy watch. However, as much as it is difficult to digest at times, there is a certain poetic beauty behind its seemingly violent and destructive quality that makes it difficult to look away from.
Shot within the walls of an abandoned Belfast prison, the film opens with troubled nineteen-year-old Eric Love (O’Connell) undergoing an embarrassing admittance process, involving a complete body strip down, as he’s transferred into an adult reformatory.
Immediately marked as a “single cell, high risk” type detainee, it doesn’t take long for Eric – whose frequent and violent outbursts got him relocated there in the first place – to stir up trouble and make enemies both with fellow inmates and security guards.
After a mistaken attack on another inmate lands the young delinquent into the disciplinary hands of the law, Eric is soon approached – and rescued – by the in-house therapist, Oliver Braumer (Friend), who believes that he can help the young man rehabilitate.
Unfortunately, getting to the root of Eric’s problems - and getting him to open up - is no easy task and Oliver - together with the other rehabilitating convicts - often find themselves the targets of both verbal and physical abuse. To top it off, Eric has to find a way to learn to share the walls of his new confinements with his estranged father, Nev (Mendelsohn), who is currently serving a life-sentence in the same prison.
Penned by first-time screenwriter Jonathan Asser – a former prison psychotherapist whose own experience with the British penal-system adds a hefty dose of authenticity and realism to the film – Starred Up, told through a series of wordless and violent expositions, is fuelled with gripping intensity which is hard to shake off. Relying on action, rather than words, the uniqueness – and the heart - of the story lies with the father-son narrative, whose bonding difficulties are depicted through the oppressiveness of life in prison.
Contributing to the movie’s relentless and uncompromising approach to despair and violence, O’Connell – mostly known for his role in the British TV-series Skins and recently seen as the lead in Angelina Jolie’s war-drama Unbroken – is an absolute standout; feral and unpredictable, his performance carries the film, while Mendelsohn is equally superb as a man whose persona and motives are seemingly hard to read.
Powerful, emotional but never too sentimental, Starred Up is a true British-prison drama classic whose quietly yielding power and passion for storytelling will leave you feeling captivated and moved.