Wednesday, March 21, 2012

“Pariah” and Romare Bearden at the Taft: Wary Exuberance

     Pariah, written and directed by Dee Rees and photographed by Bradford Young, is a female coming of age comedy drama that doesn’t pull any punches in its plotline and visually vibrates.  It’s a gorgeous movie with a pulsating color palette in perfect sync with the Hip Hop and Soul/Rock soundtrack.  In Look, I Made A Hat (more about that extraordinary book and its prequel in a later article), Stephen Sondheim reveals his admiration for Rap and Hip Hop
and their relation to the Tin Pan Alley songwriting tradition.  He implies he’d like to see musicals working in these genres.  Pariah seems to be tailor made to be a contemporary musical, though its swift, elegant storytelling could get muddied up in the process and that would be tragic.

Adepero Oduye as Alike
     Alike is a high school senior with a gift for writing poetry.  She’s trying to come to terms with her lesbianism, though wrestling with adolescence, a religious mother, and a father who is emotionally available, but suddenly distant physically, makes it difficult.  The screenplay is as sharply focused as the poem that Alike’s teacher pushes her to write and which becomes a calling card for her to pursue college.  The reasons for the troubles in the parents’ marriage or the mother’s simmering rage are not explicated, but wait to explode.  

Pernell Walker
as Alike's Best Friend Laura
     The cast is exemplary, but special mention need to made about Adepero Oduye and Kim Wayans.  Oduye was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award and her stubbornness as Alike becomes a grace note by the end of the movie.  She believes in herself and her talent even as she finds she cannot believe in everyone else around her.  Her sentimental education revolves around whom she learns she can trust.  She is beautiful exactly because she isn’t conventionally pretty and she matches up very well with Wayans and Charles Parnell as her parents.  Kim Wayans was always hilarious on In Living Color (what a cast that was its first three seasons with Keenan Ivory Wayans, Jim Carrey, Damon Wayans, Kelly Coffield, and Jamie Foxx), but she’s tough and unyielding in this role (she’s like a character from the Old Testament).  Part of the reason that the conflict works so well is that neither actress cares about being likable.  

Falling Star by Romare Bearden
     We just saw the current show of Romare Bearden’s prints at the Taft Museum and some of the juxtaposition of imagery and hue is related to this movie.  Bearden called upon the classic literary tradition (Greek myth and the Bible) and his rural southern upbringing whereas Pariah is extremely contemporary in its subject matter and urban (the Fort Greene neighborhood in Brooklyn) in its presentation of a middle class family struggling to redefine itself.

The Return of Ulysses
by Romare Bearden

I personally like the print with the cat, but that's just me!

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