Saturday, September 29, 2012

Movie Review: "The Perks of Being a Wallflower"

I've said before that for me, high school was simultaneously one of the most incredible and hellacious times of my life. (As it is for nearly everyone at some point in their lives, I believe.)

In high school, I had the chance to build relationships with some fantastic people, many of whom I've been able to regain contact with thanks to the wonders of social media. I had the opportunity to learn a lot about myself, to stand out onstage for the first time in my life, and partake in some terrific, funny, and memorable experiences, some as simple as walking down to the pizza place to grab a veal parmigiana hero before play rehearsal. (Ah, the good old days.)

On the flip side, high school was also the place in which I had to confront tremendous self-doubt, feelings of isolation and lack of belonging, and physical and emotional abuse, sometimes daily. While there is little doubt that those experiences, however painful they were, have made me into a better person as an adult, the pain and unworthiness I felt didn't feel much like a learning experience back then.

With all of this background, it may come as no surprise that Stephen Chbosky's superlative book, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, really hit me in all the right places (not to mention all the raw ones as well). When I heard that Chbosky would be adapting his book into a movie he would be writing and directing himself, I eagerly anticipated the film. And it didn't disappoint in any way.

It's Pittsburgh in 1991. Charlie (Percy Jackson's Logan Lerman) is a high school freshman who has spent some time in the hospital suffering from mental illness. While he desperately wants to make friends, he finds it easier to simply live life on the margins, hoping no one notices him. One day he meets Patrick (We Need to Talk About Kevin's Ezra Miller, sassy and strong) and his stepsister and partner-in-crime, Sam (a luminous, post-Harry Potter Emma Watson), seniors who take Charlie under their wing and introduce them to their circle of friends. And for the first time, Charlie feels like he is a part of something, and these feelings help him override the fear and sadness he struggles with.

Of course, while it appears to Charlie that Sam and Patrick lead charmed lives, he quickly realizes that both face challenges and questions of self-worth as well. And as he becomes more enmeshed in their lives and those of their friends, including the outspoken Mary Elizabeth (Parenthood's Mae Whitman), Charlie understands that he's still been trying to steer clear of doing anything that makes people really take notice of him, and that sometimes causes more problems than it provides protection from them.

When I read the book, I remember that Chbosky's dialogue really rang true for me, and the movie was able to capture much of that authenticity. Almost everyone might be able to identify with a situation from the movie (even among the peripheral characters) or a time when they felt the way one of the characters did. I also liked the fact that the movie didn't pretend Charlie's mental illness magically went away; even though his struggles were painful and packed a real emotional wallop, they were necessary to understand him better. And although at times the film hits on some of the typical high school movie clichés, they don't undercut its power.

I was really impressed with the acting in this movie, even if Emma Watson's British accent crept into her performance from time to time. Part of what made the movie work is that most of the actors weren't far away from high school-age, so it wasn't like having to suspend your disbelief that a 30-year-old actor was a high school senior. Lerman, Miller, and Watson bring vulnerability and great depth to their performances, and I really look forward to seeing their careers progress.

Sometimes you go to a movie to completely escape what is happening around you, and sometimes you find movies that you think about even after you've left the theater. Just as with the book, I can't stop thinking about The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Maybe you can't identify with any of the characters in the movie, but you'll still be captivated by the feelings it will make you feel, the way the characters creep into your brain and your heart. And if you did struggle in high school, you'll be able to look at those struggles in a different way.

1 comment:

  1. One of my favorite films of the year because of how it captures all of the painstakingly heartfelt emotions of high school, and just growing up in general. And yes, I did a shed a tear or two. Great review.