The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Summit, PG-13)

film perks_75At its best, The Perks of Being a Wallflower brings to mind a cross between Dazed & Confused and Garden State; you may find yourself expecting one character to force another to listen to The Shins.

 

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Somewhere around 10 years ago, I read Steven Chbosky’s much-loved novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower and hated it. Still, I’ve been looking forward to the movie version for quite some time; this is hard to justify, given that Chbosky adapted the screenplay and even directed the film himself. The best reason I can give is that I was excited to see it because of its cast. I like nearly everyone in it, and everyone is one of those actors you recognize from a specific, particularly memorable role.

And as it turns out, the movie version of The Perks of Being a Wallflower is actually something close to really good. I still have fairly major problems with some key plot points (most of which come at the end of the movie, by which time the film has built up enough goodwill that you’ll be more than happy to forgive them), but as expected, the cast really is great here. The title character (the wallflower) is Charlie (Logan Lerman, whom you may know as Percy Jackson), a quiet boy entering his first day of high school. His first few days go somewhat better than he was anticipating, with the help of the casually good teacher Mr. Anderson (the always likeable Paul Rudd) and two new friends, step-siblings Patrick (Ezra Miller, or Kevin of We Need to Talk About Kevin) and Sam (Emma Watson, aka Hermione Granger). Charlie takes to Patrick and Sam right away, and they invite Charlie into their circle of friends, where he meets types of people that are new to him, such as the Buddhist punk rocker Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman, Ann Veal of Arrested Development, and Amber from TV’s Parenthood), and closet-gay football player Brad (Johnny Simmons, Young Neil of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), whom Charlie sort-of knew before learning that he and Patrick are doing the closet version of dating.

At its best, The Perks of Being a Wallflower brings to mind a cross between Dazed & Confused and Garden State (you may find yourself expecting one character to force another to listen to The Shins at some point). To paraphrase My So-Called Life, the film really captures the feeling, especially in the first half, of when your life figures out how to get good. With Patrick and Sam’s guidance (though not direct influence), Charlie tries both pot brownies and acid for the first time (odd, given that this film is rated PG-13; Charlie is presumably supposed to be maybe 14, and they are both portrayed as being fun), gets his first kiss and then girlfriend, and begins to stand up for himself.

Here and there you’ll encounter some weird and/or annoying things. A big one is that it’s unclear what time period the film represents: it’s never made explicit, but given the way everyone is dressed, and their proclivity for mixtapes, ’90s rock, and old-style $50 bills, one would assume the last decade of the 20th century. Elsewhere, it seems confusing that all of the characters know every song by The Smiths (and Nick Drake, and Dexys Midnight Runners, etc.), but no one in the film seems to recognize “Heroes” by David Bowie, despite how much they try to figure out what it is. Worse still is that the movie, when it’s feeling lazy, takes the book’s epistolary structure and restructures it ham-handedly into letters read via voiceover narration. Finally, there are the aforementioned problems with the ending, which presumably has its heart in the right place but hits the wrong tone entirely, rather, it comes off as needlessly melodramatic, flip, and unearned. (It was worse in the book.)

And yet still, the cast will sell you on this film. Charlie, Patrick, and Sam all have excellent chemistry, and are all very likeable, prticularly so Ezra Miller as Patrick. He was the victim in Afterschool, the perpetrator in We Need to Talk About Kevin, and the flamboyant drama queen here; he’s great in all three movies, and appears to be able to do just about anything. Here’s hoping he has a long, rich career ahead of him. | Pete Timmermann

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