The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
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The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

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It's not about being alone in the hallAndrew LIKE BannerThe Perks of Being a Wallflower is not for pessimists and especially not anyone who thinks that growing up was without a sense of mythic self-importance.  We never catch ourselves doing it but the tiniest moments take root and those memories bring their own unique taste and sound.  I can pass by a window, hear a brief snippet of a song, and suddenly be back to when I was stuck on the bus with bad exhaust waiting to get home so I could finally be alone.  The movie, which shares all the strengths and flaws of the book, is built so firmly on those moments when we were building our stories and never realized it.

From the page it's clear he was telling a story very personal to him, so personal that when the time came to adapt the film he acted as both the director, screenwriter, and producer.  Amazingly, he managed to avoid many of the pitfalls in adapting a book by letting go of the ego that sometimes gets in the way or a good film.  Those who love the book will notice many subplots missing but all in the service of making it a better cinematic experience.

My cooler, more rational side respects Stephen Chbosky's adaptation as it's one of the wisest book to screen transitions I've seen.  The one that remembers being alone behind an elevator with some music and my scribblings felt a lot of longing for a time that felt painful but Wallflowers recalls with such wonderful catharsis.

The appearance of Paul Rudd and Joan Cusack worried me for a moment, but they adjust to the gentle tone of the film very well.

The appearance of Paul Rudd and Joan Cusack worried me for a moment, but they adjust to the gentle tone of the film very well.

Charlie (Logan Lerman) is creating his myth much more actively than anyone else in his class.  He's just starting high school, hounded by memories of an accident a long time ago, missing his dead aunt, and writing his history for an unseen friend.  Both Chbosky's film and novel put the viewpoint squarely in Charlie's control as a deft perception gives way to a budding talent for prose gets him through a very eventful freshman year of high school.

The necessary elements are in play for a hackneyed journey of self-discovery but Wallflower is unique in that it doesn't feel bad about itself.  Too many stories of youth and school express how the weight of the world is on the shoulders of the children and how the world is forever against you.  Charlie makes great friends, harbors a crush on the receptive Sam (Emma Watson) and wonderful friendship with her step-brother Patrick (Ezra Miller).  He becomes popular in his own way, even an odd symbol of attraction for his little circle, and builds his story with a lot of love.

Ezra Miller's take on Patrick is so perfect it's eerie.   At times he came off as a Shakespearean jester in the novel but Miller nudges all of his verbal idiosyncrasies aside for subtle physical encouragement and great warmth.  I could hear Patrick's voice coming perfectly from him and from the also excellently cast Kate Walsh and Dylan McDermott, as Charlie's parents, who make the most out of their limited screentime.  Lerman and Watson are also quite good but since they share the stage with Miller most of the time their excellent performances pale ever so slightly.

Watson is superb but Miller plays Patrick with such nerve and sensitivity that it was easily one of the top performances of 2012.

Watson is superb but Miller plays Patrick with such nerve and sensitivity that it was easily one of the top performances of 2012.

Chbosky's direction shows a lot of that love in wonderful little touches that play with film history in the same way the novel showed Charlie's prose changing with each book he read.  There's a lovely moment when Charlie and Sam, both doomed in a romantic way, feel around each other in a circle of snow that recalls Eternal Sunshine.  Even throwaway moments have a fun sense of film history, like a portrait of Sam taken by her snobby boyfriend that bears a strong resemblance to the superimposed women of Persona.

The dialogue is changed so slightly to have fun calling small attention to these cinematic allusions.  "My professor gave me an A for the wrong reason", says the snotty boyfriend, who could stand to watch a few more movies.  Less successful are the overly earnest moments from the book where the adult is writing the myth instead of the child.  Lines like "I feel infinite" or "We accept the love we think we deserve" are the kind of statements that bleed sentiment and nearly ring false with their attempt at youthful sincerity.  But Chbosky surrounds them with the kind of actions that would seem mundane if they weren't so quietly gorgeous such as emptying the street so Sam can fly on a truck, or the deadpan smile of a group of adults who aren't as disapproving of drug use as they might like to be.

The film is a rare thing - it's about growing up but doesn't condescend, deals with strong pain but never overplays its hand, adapts itself to the form of film, and is a worthy take the novel.  Chbosky did something almost impossible.  It deserves to be passed around in a worn DVD case, much like how I read a dog-eared and obviously loved edition of the book for the first time.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower - TailThe Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
Screenplay written and directed by Stephen Chbosky.
Starring Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller, and Emma Watson.

Posted by Andrew

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