THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER – The Review
Time to hit the young adult section of the bookstore ( yeah, there’s a few left ) for cinematic source material. Now, there’s no sparkly, hunky vamps or arrow-shooting young heroines in this flick. It might be considered a ” coming of age ” tale or a high school set journey. Some reviewers are comparing it to the John Hughes teen opus THE BREAKFAST CLUB, but I think it may be closer in spirit to the lesser known MY BODYGUARD in its pain and sweetness. But what really surprised me were the many laughs in Stephen Chbosky’s THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER. Yup, like real life high school there’s a lot of comedy mixed in with the angst. And there’s several memorable characters portrayed by a very gifted acting ensemble.
The main wallflower of the title is Charlie ( Logan Lerman ). He’s missed a year of school due to a mysterious hospital stay, and now he’s ready to begin his freshman year of high school. He’s quiet, shy and immediately a target for the bullying upperclassmen. Things look incredibly bleak ( he counts off the days, like a convict awaiting parole ) until he encounters the funny, flamboyant senior Patrick ( Ezra Miller ) in his shop class ( Patrick has had to re-take the course in order to graduate ). At the Friday night football game Charlie encounters Patrick again. The sympathetic senior introduces him to his same-age stepsister Sam ( Emma Watson ). The sibs invite Charlie to join their circle of friends ( Sam refers to them as the ” misfit toys ” ) that includes Buddhist / punk-rocker Mary Elizabeth ( Mae Whitman ). Over the next nine months the friends party, share secrets ( and mix cassettes ), perform at weekend midnight THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW screenings, and try to move past painful memories. As graduation day looms closer, Charlie’s attraction to Sam causes him to confront a dark secret that his mind has blocked off.
Sounds pretty heavy, doesn’t it? Well, yeah some of the script is really dark. But this talented cast is so engaging that you’ll be drawn into their troubles and triumphs. Lerman has the less showy role of the film’s anchor, but he commands the screen with a quiet intensity. You hope that his new friends will bring him out of his shell. When this finally happens, Lerman deliver’s some of the film’s best lines. Now the showy role belongs to Miller as the out, proud, and very loud Patrick. This is a big switch from his evil, repellant title character in WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN. The world around is his stage ( until he can don those fishnets at the local art cine’ every weekend ). But when Patrick can be himself with his closest pals he shares his heartbreak. Seems he can only be with his love in the shadows, hidden away from the world. Miller makes this motor-mouthed class cut-up a tragic, romantic hero. And then there’s his sis Sam. A lot of media attention has focused on what Ms.Watson will do now that she’s left the familiar grounds of Hogwarts. We got to see her last year in a small supporting role in MY WEEK WITH MARILYN, but this is a big starring role and she’s ( dare I say it? ) magical. When Charlie sees Sam for the first time, she’s almost an ethereal goddess ( particularly as she lets the wind caress her as they drive through a tunnel at night ). Getting to know her, Charlie discovers her troubled past as she continues to make poor romantic choices ( currently it’s condescending college dudes ). The damaged duo’s halting steps toward romance are the film’s beating heart. And she nails the Yank accent. Watson’s going to have a great post-Potter career. There’s a great supporting cast led by Whitman as the boisterous, strong-willed Mary Elizabeth. And there are non-high school actors involved. Three current TV stars play Charlie’s Mom, Dad, and big sister, and there’s a some familiar screen faces as a favorite Aunt, a sympathetic doctor, and an encouraging English teacher. I won’t reveal their names so that you might be as pleasantly surprised as I was ( oh, and a true behind-the-scenes film artist appears as a gruff instructor-very cool! ). They’re all great, but Chbosky ( directing his screenplay based on his novel ) wisely puts the focus on this terrific trio. He captures the exhiliration of the weekend away from class and the alternating thrill and trepidation over the future out in the big world. The setting may be early 1990′s Pittsburgh ( took me a bit to realize the era, what with those audio cassettes and cordless phones ), but its themes really are universal and timeless.You’ll find that watching THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER is truly one of the perks of being a filmgoer.
4.5 Out of 5