The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
Director: Stephen Chbosky
Ah, the 'Teen high school drama-comedy coming of age issues' type movie. Yes, I know. Not normally a genre known for its classics. Or is it?
In the golden eras of such films (the 50's, then the 80's), you could expect new and exciting things from your angst-ridden 'yoovs' movies, whether it was James Dean being angry and rebellious, a film-acting-game-changing Marlon Brando squinting and mumbling at the lens in a leather jacket, or the brat pack striking poses, slumping back and taking everything way too seriously, there was much to enjoy where 'teen' flicks were concerned. There have been some wonderful offerings over the years, the best of the more recent examples being Almost Famous, released 12 years ago. But none have I enjoyed more-since these 'golden era' examples-than The Perks Of Being A Wallflower.
Helped massively by being a completely single artistic vision, (how many page-to-screen examples can you think of where the author of the novel is also the screenwriter AND director of the film) this is an uncompromising adaptation from Stephen Chbosky from his novel of the same name.
The story focusses on Charlie (Logan Lerman), a quiet, intelligent boy who begins the film about to start his first day at high school, and whose already troubled past is hinted at from the outset, mostly via his own voiceover, in which he is writing letters to an unknown acquaintance(essentially, us, the audience). When his fears of 5 more years of not fitting in seem to be coming true, Charlie suddenly finds hope in the form of two new friends, class clown Patrick (Ezra Miller) and his 'sort of' sister, Sam (Emma Watson). What follows is a delicate exploration of how fragile, adaptive, susceptible, single-minded, irrational and often in need of the right support and guidance we are as teenagers. In terms of character arcs, Charlie is one which sort of goes full circle, revealing all the expected frailties and discovering brand new emotions, but with some unexpected revelations along the way.
In the role, Logan Lerman pulls off something a bit special. To play a shy, introverted, mono-syllabic character for much of the film, yet still carry the film on his leading man back and keep us thoroughly engrossed, wanting to follow him all the way is no mean feat, for sure. We delight when he does, we find hope, and re-live familiar awkward, embarrassing moments through him, and remember our first kiss and the pains of being in love for the first time.
Equally impressive is Ezra Miller. A true rising star, with a sprinkling of lesser known films to his name, he was simply stunning as the title role in last years fantastic 'We Need To Talk About Kevin,' his every glare and flicker of the eye every bit as disturbing as his evil smirk and terrifying stillness. Patrick is a far nicer character, a quick witted, genuine, thoughtful guy with a passion for Rocky Horror and mischief. A much easier ride than 'Kevin' perhaps? Well, maybe not. Certainly not reaching anything like such darkened depths as serial murder, Patrick is also not without his own complexities. The only openly gay kid at high school undoubtedly brings with itself a need for a thick skin and uncompromising self-belief( which Miller expresses perfectly) yet here we are again with the 'teenage emotions are fragile' chant, and at one stage in the film his outgoing sense of humour and huge amount of 'wise beyond his years' charm and control are quickly and ruthlessly undone, in a matter of hours, and the ensuing scenes showcase-just as much as the flashier stuff-what Miller is capable of.
Much has been made of Emma Watsons first proper grown-up post-Potter leading role. Keen to see if she had anything more to offer, it is her performance in this film which has been scrutinized closest. I'm happy to report she has chops. As Sam, the free spirited, independent one with an eye on good grades and a more mature taste in music (count how many times Morrissey appears in this film in one way or another) Watson is superb, proving she should be able-given the right roles-to shake off Hermione Granger without too much hassle. She is given the best 'trailer' shots too, to further assist in this, be it shaking herself about at a high school dance, or with arms outstretched, standing tall through the roof of a speeding car, wind rushing trough her hair to the sound of David Bowie at full blast. It's pretty cool. While some may take a short amount of time to adjust to hearing that familiar voice speaking with an American accent, most will surely just delight in a great performance, never hammed up even when the more serious scenes come along.
It is in the mixture of scenes-the funny and quirky with the weighty and heartbreaking-that we see 'Perks' truly triumph as more than the usual independent teen fare. The sucker punches to the emotional gut come thicker and faster as revelations start to unfold as the story progresses. Satisfyingly, it doesn't flinch from its dedication to exploring the darkest elements each character has to live with, even though it may whizz past some at too fast a pace to really explore. What we find so endearing about these characters is that we are all at that age kindred spirits, making life up as it goes along, on the 'island of misfit toys' says Sam. Who can't relate to feeling that way from time to time?
For a quirky 'teen high school drama-comedy coming of age issues' type movie' is this a film that takes itself too seriously? I think BECAUSE it really dares to bare, in terms of its darkest elements, and still manages to remain funny, classy and very cool, it elevates itself above the crowd, onto the shoulders of brilliance. SEE IT.
5 Fassbenders out of 5