NY Times Praises Adepero Oduye’s Performance in ‘Pariah’
“It isn’t every movie that allows an actor to lose 15 years and do a little gender bending while she’s at it. But that’s what happens with Adepero Oduye, the star of Dee Rees’s semi-autobiographical coming-of-age drama, “Pariah” (Dec. 28). In her professional photographs Ms. Oduye — a pre-med student at Cornell University until she realized she wanted to act — appears glamorous and sophisticated. But in the movie’s opening scene we see the 33-year-old actress in a funky New York strip club, looking every skinny inch an urban teenage boy, right down to the baggy pants and sideways cap, grinning like a fool and waving dollar bills at the dancers.
Only the strip club is a lesbian hangout, and Ms. Oduye plays Alike (ah-LEE-kay), a 17-year-old high school girl in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, who, once she dumps her boy duds, is startlingly changed and a lot more attractive. Alike isn’t conflicted about her sexual preference, just thoroughly confused about how to express it and to whom.
“Pariah” is a drama about coming out, and an eventual physical confrontation with her mother is no joke. But until then Alike’s youthful efforts to define herself often play like a comedy of errors. There’s the strap-on dildo, for example: amazingly ugly, not the right color and almost as big as she is. It would be scary if it weren’t so hilarious and, judging by the wide-eyed look on her face, the ultimate case of buyer’s remorse.
Ms. Oduye is blessed with a megawatt smile, but apart from that she’s a master of understatement. Without having to say or do a lot, she draws us close to Alike and keeps us there. We can tell when she’s hurting, and we hurt too. As with most gay adolescents, the pain of otherness is inevitable.
Even in ultra-hip Fort Green (where Spike Lee, one of the movie’s executive producers, grew up), Alike encounters hostility but hopes for better from her worldly dad, a police detective, and her loving, highly religious mother. When it doesn’t come, Ms. Oduye turns dross to gold and shows us a girl whom adversity just makes stronger.”
[via New York Times]