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Dee Rees's "Pariah"

All agree that the first ten minutes pack a punch. After that, opinions diverge.
The DailyPariah

Nearly a full year since its premiere at Sundance, "Dee Rees's funny, moving, nuanced, and impeccably acted first feature" opens in New York and Los Angeles today before rolling out to more cities next month. See the site for cities and dates. That endorsement in quotes, by the way, comes from Melissa Anderson in the Voice: "Like the best films about adolescence, from Truffaut's Antoine Doinel movies to So Yong Kim's In Between Days, Pariah — about one lower-middle-class, African-American, lesbian teen — is a profoundly specific film centering on universal themes: discovering who and what you are drawn to, fighting for autonomy against arbitrary parental rules, or, in this case, tyranny."

David Fear in Time Out New York: "Establishing character, conflict and environment with astounding economy in the film's first ten minutes, Rees demonstrates the sort of filmmaking chops and personal storytelling (the director claims she drew on her own coming-out experience) that suggests the low-key epiphanies of Amerindie cinema at its best. But as clunky subplots and soap operatics start to nudge their way into the mix, the filmmaker seems unable to maintain that early tone and focus; you don't doubt the film's authenticity regarding interfamilial pressures and homophobia in African-American communities, or the heartbreak of mistaking a crush's same-sex experimentation for romance. When the representations of these things are handled so clumsily and with such heavy-handed melodramatics, however, you wish the subtlety of those early scenes hadn't been relegated to its own outsider status."

In the New York Times, Nelson George argues that Pariah is "important, not simply as a promising directorial debut, but also as the most visible example of the mini-movement of young black filmmakers telling stories that complicate assumptions about what 'black film' can be by embracing thorny issues of identity, alienation and sexuality. In addition to Pariah these features include Rashaad Ernesto Green's Gun Hill Road, Andrew Dosunmu's Restless City, Alrick Brown's Kinyarwanda and Victoria Mahoney's Yelling to the Sky…. (Two other films that should also be added to this group: Barry Jenkins's Medicine for Melancholy, from 2008, a day in the life of two black bohemians wandering the streets of San Francisco, and Qasim Basir's Mooz-lum (2011), a character study of a Muslim teenager in the Midwest.)" He then outlines the connections between many of them.

More from Chris Barsanti (Filmcritic.com), Peter Gutierrez (Twitch), Stephen Holden (NYT), Kevin Jagernauth (Playlist), Mary Pols (Time), Scott Tobias (AV Club, B-), Ryan Vlastelica (L) and Alison Willmore (Movieline, 8/10). Earlier: Reviews from Sundance and ND/NF 2011. Interviews with Rees: Filmmaker (video), Ernest Hardy (Voice) and Louis Virtel (Movieline). Alison Willmore talks with both Rees and her lead actress, Adepero Oduye, for the Playlist.

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