The Perks Of Being A Wallflower
There are a few things I learned from watching the bestselling novel turned feature film "The Perks of Being a Wallflower." One: two of its stars should/will be Oscar contenders. Two: there is hope for films about teenagers. And three: it’s the best film I’ve seen all year.
"Perks" was written by Stephen Chbosky and become a huge bestseller. Thankfully, the powers-that-be felt Chbosky would be the best person to not only adapt his own book, but to direct the film version as well. By doing this, the producers have secured one of the most loving adaptations to date, and one of the most powerful and moving films to come out in years.
The film stars Logan Lerman as Charlie, a high-school freshman who writes letters to someone he simply calls "friend" and whom he tells us (via voice-over) that he has spent some time in a mental hospital. You see, the death of his aunt - a woman he considered his best friend - caused him to spiral into a despair that he couldn’t control. This led to behavior that scared his family; dad played by Dylan McDermott, mom by Kate Walsh, and sister Candace played by "The Vampire Diaries" Nina Dobrev.
Now at the start of the school year, Charlie is terrified to show up at school, attempt to make new friends, and put the past behind him. A shy kid, he is also one of the most polite and gentle, always putting people above himself. The only person who befriends him the first day of school is his English teacher Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd). And as Charlie puts it, "If my English teacher is the only friend I meet today that would be sorta’ depressing."
Not one to completely shut himself off from the world, Charlie attends a football game where his sister is one of the cheerleaders. There he spots another senior - Patrick (Ezra Miller) - the crazy, flamboyant, and boisterous kid that he takes Shop Class with. Soon enough Patrick invites Charlie to sit with him, which is when he meets Patrick’s stepsister Sam (Emma Watson from the "Harry Potter" films) who he immediately begins to crush on. The two take Patrick under their wing and go off to a house party. There, Charlie unknowingly eats a pot brownie and soon he’s become the most endearing person in the room. At that moment, Sam realizes Charlie has no friends and it decides that she and Patrick should be his besties.
Throughout the film, Charlie will experience a bunch of new things including dropping acid, first love, and the effects of bullying on one of his friends. He will also come to terms with the continued reason for his having to control his emotions regarding his past. All of this is done with a sincerity that is lacking in so many films about teenagers these days. The film is (for the most part) void of lingering stereotypes like the bitchy cheerleaders or the villain jock meathead. While our main three characters and their friends (the wonderful Mae Whitman among them) are not in the "popular crowd," that’s not really what the film is about. These characters accept who they are and allow each other’s flaws without snark or criticism.
Perhaps because the film takes place somewhere in the early 90s (they make mixed tapes for each other), the sit-com generation (where witty comebacks and clever insults seem to be the only way teenagers talk their friends), hadn’t yet fully wrapped itself into the culture. (Nor are cell phones and texting.) These people are likeable, flawed, interesting, and exude such love from deep in their souls that it’s overwhelmingly refreshing. I loved these kids and I was with them throughout the one school year the film dramatizes.
What is also moving about this story is its insight into human behavior and it allows its teen characters to explore and express it. At one point Sam, who has used guys to fill a void, asks: "Why do people and everyone I love pick people who treat us like we’re nothing?" Charlie responds, "We accept the love we think we deserve."
Sure this might sound like Psych 101, but teenagers have grown up in a generation of Self Help and Oprah. They are more self-aware and just because someone has only lived sixteen years of life, doesn’t mean they can’t come to certain profound revelations about life. And in fact, before the film is over, Charlie will deal with things that most people never have to face. It is in these trials and in the reactions and comfort of his friends that the film finds its heart.
Sitting somewhere between "The Breakfast Club" and "Less Than Zero," "Perks of Being a Wallflower" is a loving adaptation brought to vivid and achingly beautiful life. And that is in no small part because of the amazing actors involved.
Emma Watson proves she isn’t just the side-kick of a magical wizard, she is a confident and self-assured actress who can take on roles far different from her days as the bookish spell enchanter. But it is Lerman and Miller who deserve Academy recognition come Awards season. Logan Lerman who has been wandering through various roles in younger-skewed action films ("The Three Musketeers") and TV series is a revelation. He can express the joy, rage, and confusion of his life with a simple nervous shoulder shuffle or nervous glance. It’s a graceful and powerful performance.
Similarly, Ezra Miller as the outlandish Patrick stuns in his role as a gay kid who is totally fine with who he is and how he acts, but must face those that don’t understand. This also could have been a role that bordered on stereotype, but thankfully it is far from it. It is genuine and real and doesn’t come with easy answers.
With a perceptive and lyrical script, the film also boasts remarkably cinematography by Andrew Dunn and a gorgeous score by Michael Brook. The soundtrack of alternative and pop songs also plays a key component in the film and could be the soundtrack for many children of the 90’s.
All of these elements add up to an incredibly moving film that will be cherished for years to come. My wish is that it doesn’t get lost amongst the blockbuster epics and A-List showcases of the Awards season and finds its way into the film industry’s accolades. It is that deserving. It is my favorite film of the year so far and quite possibly in my Top Ten Favorite Films of all time.