Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Pleasantly surprising is how I would describe the Stephen Chbosky directed, Stephen Chbosky-adapted version of Stephen Chbosky’s coming of age book, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I’ve never read the novel, but the quality of the movie speaks for itself, I think.

Despite being pleasantly surprised, I still found some issues with the film, mainly with small, ten to fifteen second increments of lines mainly during the beginning of the movie. They just didn’t fit. Logan Lerman’s (Percy Jackson) flashback sequences to himself as a small child with his Aunt Helen, played by Melanie Lynskey (Heavenly Creatures, Up in the Air), are frustrating at best. Lynskey, who gave her career best performance in her teens and has now been relegated to the realms of small parts in decent-to-big-name movies, is given some of the cheesiest lines to read. She does her best, but the lines are just too bad. A few other bad lines are peppered throughout the screenplay, and they stick out like sore thumbs. The screenplay’s saving graces are twofold. Firstly, those bad lines tend to come toward the first half of the film, with only Aunt Helen’s lines continuing, and even then at a reduced rate. Secondly, the scenes at the very end of the film, where Logan Lerman is breaking down, are incredibly well written. I don’t usually cry in movies, but I teared up. That’s how powerful they are.

This power brings us to another potential problem the movie poses for itself that it then handily suppresses: the large amount of voice-overs. I don’t particularly care for voice-overs and they’re often my least favorite part of movies when they are there. Fortunately, Lerman handles the potential pitfall wonderfully. He speaks every one with conviction and genuine emotion.

Chbosky’s direction and the technical elements of the film are unremarkable, but certainly not bad. The music, largely song-based, is wonderfully chosen and implemented. Honestly, the more technical aspects don’t really matter because the movie, as I’ve already hinted, is made great by its performances, especially its 3 leads.

As Charlie, the lead character, Logan Lerman is a revelation. From the start, he endows Charlie with a complex combination of a sort of shy likeability and darkness that remains unrevealed until the end of the film. He effectively pulls viewers of all ages into the story, connecting with them on at least one level or another. He is simultaneously understandable and mysterious. His periodic, but increasingly frequent emotional breakdowns, almost always caused by his flashbacks, are fantastically done. His rather lengthy one at the end of the film is heartbreaking and astonishingly well done and he even handles his more romantic scenes well, showing both his desires and insecurities quite well. His eventual ending is not entirely worry free, but his performance is great and I feel his possibilities as an actor are infinite.

Ezra Miller (We Need to Talk About Kevin) gives a scene-stealing performance as Patrick, the older, gay friend Charlie makes. Miller is brilliant at making his character both funny and human. Early on, he’s more in the movie for comedic relief, but his character gradually gains depth, until, by the end of the film, he is almost as complex as Charlie. Even when he’s being almost exclusively funny in his early scenes, Miller still finds a way to show the inner pain and frustration he keeps bottled up.

I would guess that the majority of people who went to and will go to see this movie who didn’t read the novel did/will do so because of Emma Watson, either because she’s gorgeous or because they want the see how her career post-Potter is turning out or both (that’s my camp). Emma does more than one thing exceedingly well in her performance as the initially seemingly simple, but later quite complex character of Sam. Sam is Patrick’s step-sister, and they are closer than pretty much any actual brother and sister I’ve ever seen. Watson was always projected to be the most talented of the three lead Potter characters, and she shows why here. She initially portrays Sam as an innocent girl, but all the time she shows that there’s so much more to her under the surface. Later on, we find out her problem, but a brand new kind of hurt and doubt shows up in her performance, and that doesn’t disappear until we then find out those particular issues in her life. She is great and I look forward to her further post-Potter ventures. As for her American accent, she fluctuates a bit too much in the early going, accidentally shifting into an awkward quasi-British accent for split-seconds during the first few minutes she’s on-screen, but her accent from then on is actually stellar. With the exception of only a handful of instances, her accent is great and an uneducated viewer would think she was an American.

Each one of these three these lead characters has a sort of mask, a method through which to hide the traumatic experiences and issues they’ve already faced in their young lives. Despite these masks, each actor finds a way to show their vulnerability in a believable, effective, and convincing way.

Even the smaller parts in the movies are good. Mae Whitman (Arrested Development, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Parenthood) is good as another new friend of Charlie’s, Mary Elizabeth. Paul Rudd (Friends, Our Idiot Brother, Knocked Up) is warm and welcoming as Mr. Anderson, and Kate Walsh (Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice) and Dylan McDermott (The Practice, American Horror Story) are effective and pretty convincing as Charlie’s parents. Joan Cusack (Broadcast News, Working Girl, In & Out, Toy Story 2 & 3) has what essentially amounts to little more than an extended cameo as Dr. Burton, but she makes the most of it. Nina Dobrev (The Vampire Diaries) is also fine as Charlie’s sister, Candace.

Overall, the film is a bold, fresh new entry into the teenage film genre, complementing The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller quite well. Its take on the emotional issues as well as those with self-confidence and acceptance in high school are unfortunately spot on, and it deals with the difficult issues powerfully and gracefully. I liked this film a lot. Especially when considering how much I was expecting a mediocre-to-good film at best. Though not perfect or even nearly so, Perks is still very enjoyable, extremely funny, quite well acted, more often than not powerfully written, sometimes immensely poignant, and innately hopeful in its outlook on life. It’s a breath of fresh air. ★★★★ out of ★★★★★.


  1. A very nice review of a pretty great teen movie. Logan Lerman's performance is easily the best Lead performance I've seen this year so far, and the entire cast is indeed great. I read the book when the trailer came out, and to be honest you don't really need to read it, lol. It's all there in the film, and isn't anything fantastic or unmissable by any means.

  2. I agree that Lerman is fantastic and he is either my favorite or second favorite lead male performance so far this year. I prefer Quvanzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild as an overall lead performance thus far. I've only seen 8 lead male performances, so I'll just rank them here. There's still a lot that's out that I need to see and a lot still to be released.
    1. Logan Lerman in The Perks of Being a Wallflower (tied)
    1. Daniel Craig in Skyfall (tied)
    3. Ben Affleck in Argo
    4. Jonah Hill in 21 Jump Street
    5. Christian Bale in The Dark Knight Rises
    6. Joaquin Phoenix in The Master
    7. Channing Tatum in 21 Jump Street
    8. Jared Gilman in Moonrise Kingdom (loved the movie but he was far and away the weak link of the ensemble)

  3. I LOVE that you included Channing Tatum (who is also the best part of the otherwise dreary Magic Mike) and Jonah Hill in your list, they were fantastic in 21 Jump Street. Affleck, Bale, and Craig were indeed quite good, though each was a little bland (those characters are all pretty colorless). Phoenix is the hardest to judge, so bizarre and off-putting yet fascinating. John Hawkes in The Sessions is also very good.

    I'm just about the only person on the planet not to fall head over heels in love with Beasts of the Southern Wild, though I did like Dwight Henry quite a bit. I need to rewatch it when it comes out on DVD, that's for sure.