Saturday, December 1, 2012

Review | The Perks of Being A Wallflower (2012)

A standout high school film in recent memory.

The Perks of Being A Wallflower has a very peculiar title and sets very peculiar expectations. It's the kind of movie you would groan about because it features teenagers or it has an indie feel that appeals much to the emos and the hipsters like Garden State, Juno or any comedy that premiered at Sundance. The movie is adapted by the author of the original novel Stephen Chbosky and for those of you that have read the book, but didn't enjoy it, there's a fear that he will translate parts that you would dislike. But guess what. This film may be not just my favorite movie of the year so far, but it may be my favorite of the high school genre.

The adaptation follows Charlie (Logan Lerman) who is starting his freshman year at a new high school. Despite his huge interests in literature and music, he's an introverted loner with a damaged persona following the death of two people that had been very close to him. We're going to see him getting picked on by bigger people as you usually would when you enter your first year. But then he meets Patrick (Ezra Miller), a free-spirited, closet gay senior and his step-sister Sam (Emma Watson) in which Charlie takes a liking for, and they become friends, providing him the needed comfort of high school and help him move into the world of adulthood by increasing his self-esteem.

Before going into this movie, I have prepared by reading Chbosky's novel and I can tell you it is harrowing. I won't go into too much detail about the book, but it's a very realistic approach on adolescence which features angst and alienation coming from the perspective of Charlie so much and calculates his friendship with Patrick and Sam. I have also used the novel as a supplementary text for my finals exam, which grew my appreciation of it even more. But with transferring the content from the source material to the big screen, the author had made a generally accessible, bittersweet, relatable and unique film that is equally excellent with the novel.

The Perks of Being A Wallflower is a standout of all the films released in the past five to ten years that is aimed and made for teenagers. It's not a film that contains much excess (Project X, Superbad or 21 Jump Street) or exploitative fantasy (the Twilight series, Mean Girls), but plays out as a complex and stripped down take into high school life. Chbosky transcends from cliche which involves climbing the social ladder, bullies or how the adults portayed are unfairly dominant towards the protagonist (aka THE MAN!) and instead gives us a fascinating look by simply bringing a balanced and well-framed portrayal  of each character's connection with one another, particularly Charlie. We usually see the fractured personae of Charlie, Sam and Patrick at every stage of the coming-of-age story and it would be taken either as a leading or supporting role. From the kids in The Breakfast Club, Cameron Frye in Ferris Bueller, and now Charlie of Perks, they all have lower self-esteem and lower self-confidence that it's just sad to see them being limited to new stages where they could transform into an adult until they build a friendship. For Charlie, his boundaries are made obvious with his lack of social skills, and his past trauma and the connections he had, both lost and found are perhaps the main factor in keeping him sane and stable.

I wouldn't go as far as to compare the novel with the film, but I am very happy that Chbosky did not choose to bring literally every sentence of the novel and put it on camera while retaining the realism placed in the main themes and issues that are around teenage angst. For instance the depiction of sexuality here is restrained up to Patrick's homosexuality which is an issue currently comfortable and acceptable in society. There is also a theme about pedophilia, which I'm usually against, but at least in here, they make it understandable in where the relationship between one character and his companion is at least warm and heartfelt and not about having to be all up against. Other themes such as sex, drugs and alienation. He also limits the numerous amounts of pop culture references all of which to 60s and 70s classic music like The Smiths, literature such as Catcher in the Rye and On the Road but still retains the amount of exposure of Rocky Horror Picture Show and despite this, he creates a nostalgic journey of high school life. This is evident in its soundtrack, which seems appropriate for a film that contains a thoughtful character despite the setting being placed in the early 90s. I never even heard of David Bowie's Heroes in my entire life (given that I'm a huge fan of his music), but it feels greatly orchestrated.

Chbosky also knows how to frame his characters with everyone being well-expressed from the actors' performances. For Logan Lerman, who appeared in mediocrity like Percy Jackson or Gamer, he makes his shy but sweet Charlie more convincing and believable. In this film, Chbosky is also able to bring a talented supporting cast away from the roles that audiences have always known for. Emma Watson, whose character could have easily be the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope is perhaps impressive as Sam, Charlie's intelligent yet hopeless romantic not to mention that she nails a convincing American accent. Sure, her character seems so familiar in every high school film featuring the male protagonist and Molly Ringwald, but Watson's performance is mature enough to convey this and proves that she is not just going to be known Hermione Granger from Harry Potter for a while. Ezra Miller moves away from his skin crawling sociopath he played in We Need to Talk About Kevin and transform into a free spirited class clown, but when his sexual identity is confronted, he portrays Patrick with some much needed emotional charge.

The film also utilize the adult cast on par with the teenagers. We have Paul Rudd as Charlie's charming and kind English teacher, Melanie Lynskey as Charlie's late Aunt, Nina Dobrev as his sister and Joan Cusack also makes an appearance as his doctor. All of whom gives earnest and nuanced performances particularly with Rudd who like Ezra and Watson, plays a character completely away from the straight man he usually plays.

These are the many reasons I love about The Perks of Being A Wallflower but the most important reason why I love this movie is that I identify with this a lot with it. I was neither sociable nor confident in high school as well, but how the connections are built, how the conversations are told and how it affects our confidence are properly depicted. I was struck with how realistic it is in capturing how high school, for teenagers, is a tough slice of life. You don't seem to watch all the time in TV and movies and with this, it's a rarity. To be fair, the film have so much energy that it could try to utilize that on the narrative instead on the characterization and its emotional core, but nonetheless it works.

This is a film that have some respect for its teenage audience and knows that they are intelligent in getting the grasp of characters and story. And for me, this will be perhaps the only time I'll ever see a coming-of-age story with a perfect blend of great direction, great writing and a great ensemble. It may not be the best film I've seen about misfits, but it is the best film I've seen about misfits... that happens to be in high school.

1 comment:

  1. One of the best Teen books I've read...its inspiring and simple...the vocabulary is not too hi-fi and the concept and plot is really good...and if you are a teenager or in your late teens (or young adult years) you'll find yourself relating to atleast one character for sure :)