***1/2 out of ****
Here’s one more movie you may have missed in 2012. Having just seen it on Blu-ray, I feel that it didn’t get enough recognition. Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, based on his bestselling novel is a very good “coming-of-age” film that didn’t get enough award attention or much of a release in theaters. I had little interest in seeing this one myself –even when my curiosity was sparked by critics like David Edelstein who praised its truthfulness about the joys and pains of youth. He also felt it was superior to the original book.
His review is here.
His review is here.
I guess I felt a little turned off by the film’s trailer which tried to sell the film with a “best years of our lives” -vibe. I don’t typically like movies about high school. Maybe that’s a personal bias, as I don’t remember that time in my life being particularly fun. Objectively, I find the glamorization of high school life to be dishonest.
The movie is set in the early nineties and stars Logan Lerman as Charlie, entering high school after a traumatic event in his life that has left him lonely and emotionally distant. He copes with a recent loss by keeping a journal in the form of letters to a person he doesn’t know. Charlie is also prone to blackouts and feels he is barely managing himself.
Everything weak about this film is at the beginning. Lerman does what he can to play an insecure freshman with no friends, but he’s too good looking a guy and instantly likeable for me to believe that everyone would be giving this character such a hard time. Lerman still manages to convey Charlie’s yearning for friendship as he finds acceptance in a group of manic seniors with a taste for deviance. Charlie’s role as an audience surrogate puts one in touch with his insecurities and you’ll root for him as he starts to loosen up.
In the beginning of his interactions with the older kids, which involved a bit of music talk, I was dreading that this movie, with its warm aesthetics and rock soundtrack might begin to resemble a bad Cameron Crowe film (Elizabethtown) with empty characters and pop-culture references. Thankfully, as the movie progressed, it reminded me of a good Cameron Crowe film (Almost Famous) with soul and emotion that is tied to the subject of taste in music and literature.
The two important people in this new world he’s entered, are Patrick (Ezra Miller) and his stepsister Sam (Emma Watson). Patrick is gay and fearlessly out-of-the closet to his peers. Sam is a kind and pretty girl with a bad rep for a reckless sexual past and seems to get attached to bad guys. Charlie falls in love with her, while fearing that any confession of this may break his ties with these new people who are too good to him to lose. The theme of acceptance and the fear of loss is the strongest part of this film.
The other great strength of this movie is its nostalgia for a time when I was a child and these would have been the teens I looked up to. I remember babysitters talking about all the things they thought were cool. The Smiths often play in quirky romantic hipster movies, but in this one, they really have a place. A running plot devise, which won me over to the movie, was how the group of teens regularly involve themselves in Rocky Horror Picture Show events. This was a time when that tradition was still more of an underground movement where young people who felt like outsiders found each other. This movie represents the Rocky event quite accurately.
The casting of the school’s faculty makes fun supporting appearances with Paul Rudd as an English Teacher and Tom Savini teaching shop class. Like most high school related movies, the academic pressure is far away in the background but it still preserves the endearing memories one might have of their teachers.
Writer/director Stephen Chbosky has made a really good film, for being so fresh to the profession. It would be interesting if he manages to make another movie as good as this one. It’s been my observation that young auteurs with a personal story to tell don’t manage to top themselves later on. I think of Richard Kelly with Donnie Darko whose career followed with laughably convoluted films with no heart. I also think of James Merendino who I hear didn’t make anything worth watching after his excellent SLC Punk!.
I really liked this movie and hope that the talent behind it will bring more to a genre I rarely care about. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is about teens but sought out a broad audience and didn’t deserve such a hard time finding one.