The Perks of Being a Wallflower

PhotobucketUnless you were captain of the football team or head cheerleader, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is going to resonate on some level with you. How much is debatable, but this is without question, one of the most poignant dramas concerning high school life since the golden era of John Hughes. Teen angst is a subject often mined in the cinema. The subject arguably hit a commercial peak in the 1980s with generational classics like Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink. But Perks goes much deeper. It’s less humorous and more warmly accessible. An updated version of those films circa 1991 but made in 2012. The story is involving because it seems timeless – not of any particular time or place but of an experience and that experience is high school. Though fashions and music may change, the attitudes remain familiar. Insecurities are laid bare and exposed in a way that is both believable and at times heartbreaking.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a novel written in 1999 by Stephen Chbosky. Frank and mildly provocative, it has appeared on the list of most frequently banned books in libraries and schools, but so has Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Catcher in the Rye and To Kill A Mockingbird, so I suppose it’s in good company. The author takes the old adage “if you want something done right, do it yourself” to heart as he not only adapts his book into the screenplay, but directs the entire movie. Who better to convey the teen angst of the source novel that the author of the actual words? Surprisingly, he proves to be an adept director as he extracts honest performances from his young leads. Actor Logan Lerman is Charlie, a sensitive and withdrawn freshman unskilled in the social scene of high school. Sharp moviegoers might remember him at the titular character in Percy Jackson & the Olympians. As acceptable as he was in that adaptation, he completely nails the personality here. He is likeable and sweet and despite his better than average looks, still conveys the miserable sad sack that is required here. He eats lunch alone, gets bullied by his peers. He wont even offer the correct response in class when he clearly knows the answer.

Logan Lerman is matched by two key co-stars.  Taking the same shop class is a senior named Patrick played by Ezra Miller. As the sassy best friend he dazzles in a showy role that deserves to be his breakout. An eccentric personality, he likewise doesn’t quite fit with in-crowd and the two of them strike up a friendship. Completing the trio they form is Patrick’s stepsister Sam portrayed by Emma Watson. She subverts her English accent here to play an American teen. I’ve seen the competent actress in eight Harry Potter movies, yet I have never witnessed her give a more emotionally impressive performance than the one she gives in this film. They share a camaraderie that is incredibly touching. Watch them boogie down when the three of them unite at the homecoming dance. It’s awkward but tender.  You might even wish you were part of their inner circle. Charlie is soon introduced to their cohorts and this “island of misfit toys” becomes sort of support group for him.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is about a journey. The trek of a young freshman as he navigates high school saddled with his emotional baggage from the past. His befriending of these seniors that are outcasts as well, allow him to get through this incredibly difficult episode of his life.  True, the script is admittedly highlighted by some well worn tropes often found in literature. Charlie, Patrick and Sam could all be identified as familiar character types. However to label them as such is to reduce their impact. This is a an affecting take on high school life that feels authentic and sincere. The sentiment is real. You may not identify with these people, but you can certainly appreciate the dramatic weight of their pain. This is for anyone who has ever navigated the horror of high school. In other words, it’s for pretty much everyone.

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32 Responses to “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”

  1. I wasn’t too interested in this one before, but the buzz has gotten it on my radar

    • The problem is, it isn’t anyone’s radar…..yet. I suspect this could really catch on if it got a nationwide release. Based on the critical acclaim it’s getting and solid box office in just 100 theaters, it should hopefully get a wide release soon.

  2. I only wanted to watch this before October is over, but now it’s a bit of a mandatory. Nice review!

  3. I was shocked by how much you loved this movie. Good call on the “if you want something done right, do it yourself”. I hear it every day when I’m ineptly performing a task my mother finds innate human knowledge, but gosh, if only more authors would do it with the film industry.

    I guess I must see this. You mention that the book is controversial, but in good company with Huck Finn, Catcher in the Rye, and To Kill a Mockingbird. I suppose I’ve been a bit skeptical of the film, so I immediately thought, “You know, ‘Twilight’ and ‘The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things’ were multiple times listed as banned books, as well.” But you also mentioned John Hughes, who made some of my all-time favorites, including Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Breakfast Club (and, in the inclusion of guilty pleasures, Weird Science). At school, the book club is currently reading the book and planning a trip to see the film adaptation….unfortunately I’m not part of the book club, so I won’t get that specific chance, but I’ll definitely check the book out of the library, then get the movie on DVD. Hasn’t been playing in my area AFAIK, and knowing my luck, I won’t have time when it finally does.

    Wonderful review.

  4. High praise! I wasn’t expecting much of this movie, but it seems I’m in for a treat when it eventually opens around here.

  5. Wow, I think I should put this on my list of movies to see soon; I had written this movie off. Excellent review, Mark.

  6. This movie was emotionally moving. I loved it!! Favorite scene is the tunnel scene, both during the beginning and end of the movie, with ‘Heroes’ by David Bowie playing. That scene and that sound where perfect together

    • So striking with the glowing street lights passing by in the background. It was filmed like a dream. The school dance, the toast at the party, the gift exchange, the lunchroom, etc. – one memorable scene after another.

  7. I love that “his better than average looks” line. hahahah

    I’m so excited to see this. I wanted to pair it up with “Frankenweenie” but I just didn’t have enough time. Maybe next week… But next week has its crop of movies, too. And I don’t think my friends want to see it. Ugh. :( I’ll find a way.

    Awesome review! It made me more excited for it… if that’s even possible.

  8. I think this is my favorite movie of the year, so far. I absolutely loved it. Funny, emotional and real. Each character was acted brilliantly. The whole feel of the movie took me back in time, in some parts. Just great!

  9. I wasn’t as impressed with this, but there were some nice moments. I noticed at the cinema that the vast majority there were aged around 18-25 for whom this is tailor-made. If it at least gets the Twilight generation into David Bowie, then there’s nothing wrong with that.

    • I loved the soundtrack: Temptation (New Order), Asleep (the Smiths), Low (Cracker), Teenage Riot (Sonic Youth), Pearly Dewdrops’ Drops (Cocteau Twins), Heroes (David Bowie). Someone obviously took some time to assemble that.

  10. martin250 Says:

    will try to look forward to this because i enjoyed John Hughes movies. i haven’t seen Breakfast Club in more than a decade.

    as for Logan Lerman, i can barely remember him from Percy Jackson . have not seen an Ezra Miller film. and have not seen Emma Watson outside the Harry Potter movies. but 4 1/2 stars plus “..one of the most poignant dramas ..” almost has this as a modern classic. must and will see this.

  11. Wonderful review Mark, but I’m still a little undecided about this one. I read the book when I was a teenager and hated the writing style. I couldn’t actually remember much about the plot, other than I just really didn’t like the story. When it came slowly back to me throughout the course of the film; I couldn’t help but go off it a little. I thought Miller was wonderful as Patrick, and the soundtrack was fantastic. I’m just not sure what I think about it as a whole, yet.

    • I had never even heard of the book until I saw the film. Almost every scene in the film really stood out to me. Not sure which was my favorite, but as a whole it was quite an emotional study on high school adolescence.

  12. This is an easy A+ for me. Not sure how I’m going to write about it. I’m beyond elated that I finally saw it.

  13. Finally saw this today, while I did enjoy it I have to say I didn’t enjoy it as much as you did. I found the characters fairly relateable (if a little stereotypically framed) though found that the subjects touched upon and the editing style of the movie made for a numbing experience that prevented me from fully engaging wih it as I should have. It’s a shame, as the movie gets off to a great start and then makes the mistake of almost descending into melodrama in place of developing it’s characters when it starts to wrap up it’s story.

    I was disappointed at The lack of development and screen time spent on Emma Watson’s character in the last half, as opposed to Ezra Miller (the stand out performance of the movie) and Logan Lerman’s characters. In that part of the movie she serves no purpose other than to give their characters someone to react off of – a reference is made that she discovers her boyfriend was cheating on her in what is essentially a throwaway line of voiceover dialogue. Yes, i get that this is Logan Lerman’s character’s story, but to have this as a line of dialogue instead of us seeing Lerman’s character find that out first hand I felt somewht cheated and that it somewhat weakened her, as if the writer/director had lost interest in one of the principal 3 characters.

    That said, I’m not certain aif this might be an age issue, as I’m now 34 and found myself thinking back whilst watching this to two of my favourite similar teenage-set movies, the Breakfast Club and Pump Up The Volume, which I saw in my teens and both of which cover some of the same topics (like being an outsider and being messed up with complex issues) as ‘Wallflower’ does. I find myself wondering if I had seen either of those movies for the first time at this age, would I have had a similar reaction to them as I did Wallflower? And similarly if I might have enjoyed this more had I been 10-15 years younger when I watched it?

    • I appreciate the fact that you explain why you didn’t like this. I guess even the most universally beloved film won’t charm everyone. This has gotten overwhelmingly positive reviews from audiences and critics alike. Uh and I don’t think it’s an age issue. I’m even older than you. ;-)

      • it’s not that I don’t like it, I do, just didn’t sit with me as well as with most people. I definitely think there’s something to age and nostalgia that has a bearing on it, the first half is a great movie, but it’s let down by the last half.

    • I see. Well glad you to hear you liked it then. The fact that you think “the first half is a great movie” doesn’t come through your comment at all. I did see that one line “the movie gets off to a great start and then makes the mistake of almost descending into melodrama in place of developing it’s characters.” But that sounded like another objection.

      • lol, I did like it, but I have those issues with it in the last half which is what really brings the movie down and causes problems for it in my opinion and makes it hard to simply review it. I dread what you’re going to make of my review for Cloud Atlas when I finally get it done as I’ve now seen that, I suspect that my review will be just as unclear but for entirely different reasons!

  14. Ezra Miller too is a breakout star. The chemistry here is as if they’ve worked together for years and the plot pulls no punches to stay real. Another gem. Thanks for reminder to pick it up.

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