The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) – I read something about how you should never respect someone’s taste in literature if they say their favorite book is The Catcher in the Rye. Ignoring for a moment that this is just generally a stupid fucking thing to say about almost any book, here is why I take issue with this: you generally first read that book when you’re 15 or so for school. At that age you can relate to Holden Caulfield’s angst and the book really speaks to you. You read it again maybe a decade later and you smack your forehead at how dumb and misguided this kid is. That’s not the sign of a weak book, that’s the sign of your perspective shifting. (Bret Easton Ellis says he rereads The Great Gatsby, another high school assigned book, every ten years or so for a similar reason.) Occasionally I see movies, as a man going on thirty, which seem to me to be honest portrayal of what I experienced as an adolescent. Not ones that accurately represent the things I did, but the way I felt. Dazed and Confused and The Myth of the American Sleepover come immediately to mind (not coincidentally these movies tend to be R-rated… also both of those examples are setting in decades well before my own adolescence). But that’s all through my nostalgia filter. What about the young ones now? What gives them what they call “the feels?”

Charlie (Logan Lerman) is starting high school. He is not popular (if the title didn’t already tip you off). In fact the only person he has an actual conversation with is his English teacher (Paul Rudd), with whom he bonds over being an aspiring writer. Of course a movie about Charlie brooding alone for two hours would get old fast. He is befriended by Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson), two kids who would probably be called “outcasts” if they didn’t have so many friends. Some of these friends include Brad (Johnny Simmons), a closeted jock having an affair with the more open Patrick, and Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman… her?), who develops a bit of an infatuation with Charlie. The problem is that Charlie is completely smitten with Sam (and really who wouldn’t be?). Sam has a thing however for older guys, or at the very least guys who aren’t right her. Charlie also has a few issues involving the suicide of a friend the previous year and the death of his Aunt Helen (Melanie Lynsky) when he was seven.

The author of the book, Stephen Chbosky, directed the film which is really cool. Perhaps because of this The Perks of Being a Wallflower comes across as being much more honest than your average teenage tearjerker, which is odd because if I summarize the whole plot (including parts I neglected to mention in the previous paragraph) then it sounds very melodramatic. It does have a pretty serious case of that stereotypical indie film aesthetic going, but it pulls through without seeming overly cliché… even though, again, at times it totally should. All the actors do well in their roles. Lerman plays it pretty low-key, probably too low-key for some people, but it worked. I mean the movie isn’t called Perks of Being a Really Outgoing Kid. At the same time, he doesn’t blend into the background. Emma Watson is of course as lovely and charming as ever, but in a way that has a bit more depth than a brainy wizard. The character could be considered something of a manic pixie dream girl, but I think the character is given enough agency of her own to avoid that label. I don’t consider this movie a perfect classic or anything and much to the disappointment of my girlfriend, I did not cry. Still, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is better than I expected it to be. Feels were felt.

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