Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Teenage romances not being high on my list of favourite genres, I must confess I probably would have missed this film altogether if I hadn’t been given a pass for an advance screening. That would have been a shame, because The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an altogether captivating film with more than enough positive qualities to overcome its flaws.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower was written and directed by Stephen Chbosky, based on his own bestselling novel. That’s unique in its own way and I think it’s responsible for the film’s most endearing quality, which is the honesty that flows throughout. It is also responsible for the fact that the film is intelligently-written and carefully structured. This is an indie film and I understand it is fairly low-budget, but the production values are top-notch and the film is perfectly cast (and very well-acted). 

Logan Lerman stars as Charlie, the wallflower in question. He’s a lonely, troubled but brilliant artist-type kid just starting high school. When a classmate is mistreated by a teacher and acquires a bad nickname, Charlie seeks him out and they become friends. Patrick, the friend, is played by Ezra Miller, who was so outstanding in We Need to Talk About Kevin. He is just as good here as Charlie’s gay friend. Patrick has a kindhearted step-sister named Sam, played by Emma Watson (from Harry Potter), and Charlie falls in love. Patrick and Sam introduce Charlie to their little band of outsiders and the next thing you know he is attending one of those special midnight The Rocky Horror Picture Show events. Charlie’s fortunes seem to be improving, but of course there are hard times coming and there are reasons why he is such a troubled teenager.

I liked the flow of The Perks of Being a Wallflower and the way the film changed in the last half hour. That worked for me. I also liked the themes of teenage friendship (especially among alienated outsiders) and the importance of mix tapes and certain types of music back in high school. I just finished listening to a bunch of mix tapes I created when I was in high school, so the nostalgia was working for me. Unfortunately, this is also where the film failed me. If Charlie is a wallflower, then what did that make me? Charlie had far more friends and dates and a much more active social life than I would have even dreamed possible when I was his age. A wallflower? I don’t think so. If you want to hear about a wallflower, check out one of those songs I was listening to from 1975: Janis Ian's "At Seventeen".

And then there was the disappointment, especially in an indie film, of seeing the typical middle class environment of far too many Hollywood films (though this is not a typical Hollywood film in other ways). These teenagers lived lives of suburban privilege that made it harder for me to engage with their anxieties. There were a number of related disappointments, but I’ve said enough. Overall, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a superior film and gets ***+. My mug is up.

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