moviebuff801: The Perks of Being a Wallflower Review

Posted: October 17, 2012 by moviebuff801 in moviebuff801's Movie Reviews

Release Date: September 21, 2012

Running Time: 1 hour and 43 minutes

Written by: Stephen Chbosky.  Based on his own book.

Directed by: Stephen Chbosky

Starring: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller

Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower starts out as most high school-set coming-of-age movies do: with the new kid arriving at school and pondering his place amongst the social scene by way of the traditional rite of passage: at which table to sit in the cafeteria.  As we all have experienced, high school can be daunting and difficult, yet also exhilarating and life-shaping.  Chbosky’s new film is dead-set on capturing everything those four years have to offer within the course of 103 minutes, and not only does it do so with flying colors, it might just set the new standard for the genre in the process.  John Hughes, eat your heart out.

The new kid is Charlie (Logan Lerman), a freshman who’s immediately shunned by the jocks and cool kids because he likes to do something as audacious as reading in his spare time, among other “abnormal” interests.  The only friend Charlie makes on his first day is his English teacher, Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd), who instantly recognizes Charlie’s true potential.  One day, Charlie finds himself welcomed into the fold by two free-spirited seniors, Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller), who also happen to be half-siblings.  Charlie immediately develops a crush on Sam and also finds himself constantly charmed by her and Patrick’s “f*** conformity” attitude.  Charlie is then introduced to the lifestyle of Sam and Patrick, which at one point, is aptly described by Sam as “the island of misfit toys.”  Whereas most high schoolers subscribe to the idea of fitting into one of the niches, these students just embrace the idea of being yourself.  But for Charlie, that can be a tricky, if not painful notion, given his past.

If you look at the trailers and first half hour of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, you’d think you’d have a pretty good idea of what you’re getting into.  And, I admit, I was thinking the exact same thing.  But then, the film does something surprisingly welcome: it starts to develop its own identity, just like Charlie.  This is a teen movie with more to it than just a collection of assembly line “hipster clichés.”  It’s a much more emotionally engaging film than you’d expect.  It has a real, heartfelt human story at its core, which is inhabited by real characters with dark, sometimes haunted pasts, and they’re all brought together in a story that’s equal parts funny, charming, sad and profound.

Beneath what may appear as a run-of-the-mill quirky exterior is a surprising level of emotional honesty and  boldness that pulled me in.  Fortunately, though, the film never feels as if it’s manipulating our emotions.  It tackles some pretty heavy stuff, and Chbosky’s adapted screenplay respectfully handles it all, thus the film never strikes a false note.

Stephen Chbosky, who not only wrote and directed The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but also wrote the 1999 novel on which this is based, knows the material inside and out.  As a directorial debut, this is like a thing of beauty.  Chbosky has complete confidence in his material, confidence which has rubbed off to great effect on his three leads.  As portrayed by Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller, the characters of Charlie, Sam and Patrick take nearly every teen archetype and not only turn them on their head, but also breathe an incredible amount of new life into them.  Lerman is especially good here.  Through a subtly mannered and skilled performance, he turns Charlie into a person who’s at once both charming and vulnerable.  By comparison, Watson and Miller mask their characters’ vulnerability with easygoing and carefree attitudes.  But as we gradually start to see through the chinks in their armor, they themselves come to learn that you can only hide behind humor for so long before personal demons come visiting again.  Lerman is giving the best performance of his career so far here and similarly, Watson tops anything she’s done in the Harry Potter series.  It’s safe to say that Hermione’s all grown up, in more ways than one. Watson is actually playing the anti-Hermione in those same ways.  Miller steals almost any scene he’s in.  There’s not a weak link in this trio.

Through his smart, nuanced and tender screenplay, Chbosky is asking, “How willing are we at this point in our lives to accept our true selves?”  At the same time, he’s also saying that we’re bound to look back at these moments, both good and bad, as the ones that defined us then and define us now.  Whether or not you view that as meaningful, what can’t be denied is the sheer heart with which Chbosky tells his story.  The last 30 minutes in particular culminate in some really powerful stuff.

There’s no question that I think The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of the year’s absolute Best Films.  It’s certainly the biggest and best surprise this year has had to offer me so far.  It’s decidedly darker, with just a dash of grim, than I was expecting, but the material just clicked and I found myself more drawn into it than I would expect to be in a high school movie.  It can navigate its way through funny and sad, sometimes in the same scene.  Stephen Chbosky showcases characters just as fragile as the movie itself, and the result is something that’s sentimental, exhilarating and most of all, real.

****/****

Comments
  1. r361n4 says:

    Great review, I couldn’t agree more. I was a little weary in the first 10 minutes that it might be an annoying stereotypical teen movie but that concern was dashed to pieces as soon as Watson and Miller popped up on the screen. I actually would say that this is my favorite film so far this year, glad to see you liked it too :)

  2. moviebuff801 says:

    Thanks. :) Yeah, I was relieved that the film turned out to be more, too. It’s really a shame that the previews are selling this as just another hipster movie; it deserves a better audience. Glad to hear that you loved it as well. ;)

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