Saturday, October 27, 2012

Review: "The Perks of Being a Wallflower"

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is full of angst. For those unfamiliar, angst is an affliction common amongst teenagers. It is somewhat like anxiety and depression all rolled into a nightmarish concoction. Even before being screened at TIFF in September, I was anxious to see the film. This is Emma Watson's (Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series) first major American film role. The film is an adaption of the acclaimed (as the poster tells us) novel by Stephen Chbosky. I am not sure a novel can be said to be acclaimed when it was published by MTV books. It is definitely a story for the MTV Generation. The style and the music of the film reference a certain time period: the mid-1990s. I think this is where the film lost me. Although I grew up in the 90s and I started high school in 1997, I feel like teenage angst is all too common an affliction and the film would have been better suited if it felt like it blurred time a little more. Any of the music, which is referenced in the book, could have been used in a modern adaptation. Logan Lerman, the film's narrator and antagonist, was not even born until 1992! I was a little unimpressed with his performance. It felt a little cautious and, of course, filled with too much angst. On the other hand, Emma Watson and her cinematic sidekick Ezra Miller (teenage Kevin from We Need to Talk About Kevin) were fantastic. Miller consistently stole scenes as the energetic and flamboyant Patrick. I think that the film needed another voice besides Stephen Chbosky. Having written the so-called acclaimed novel, he wrote the screenplay and directed the film. A novelist certainly has a clear picture of his story inside his or her head, but it is difficult to produce the same effect on screen. A different (fresh?) voice might have made the story more accessible. The Perks of Being a Wallflower treats its supposed hero like an angst-riddled child, but while the supporting characters steal all the scenes, it is not enough to make Charlie enough of a empathetic loner.

Charlie (Lerman) is about to begin his first year of high school. He is an introvert and he is worried that he is not going to make any friends. He also did not have a good year leading up to high school. Charlie's brother is off at college and his sister (Nina Dobrev) is too concerned about her boyfriend (Nicholas Braun) to notice Charlie's depression. Charlie also does not want to bother his parents (Dylan McDermott and Kate Walsh) with his problems. Charlie loves to write and he spends a lot of time alone writing letters to an anonymous stranger. He discusses deeply personal problems and questions. This leads to a friendship with his Engllish teacher (Paul Rudd), who pushes Charlie to read more challenging novels. Eventually he befriends two seniors, Sam (Watson) and her stepbrother Patrick (Miller). Sam and Patrick are outgoing and artistic. They introduce Charlie to a new crowd of friends who accept him into the Island of Misfit Toys. Charlie loves his new group of friends and his demeanor begins to change. As time goes on, it becomes increasingly clear to everyone that Charlie is desperately in love with Sam. Unfortunately, Sam has a boyfriend in college. His growing infatuation with Sam leads to problems within the group and leads Charlie back into his dark place. Through all of this, Charlie is also haunted by death of his Aunt Helen (Melanie Lynskey), who died at Christmastime on the night of his birthday.

Interestingly, the year I started high school, the band The Wallflowers (fronted by Jakob Dylan, son of Bob) were all over the charts with their Grammy-winning song One Headlight. Stephen Chbosky published his novel in 1999, but the film (I have never read the novel) has a distinct feeling of the grungy early 1990s. For a while, I thought that the film took place in the 1980s. Even though the themes of the film will never be out of vogue, the film does not have enough ingenuity to stake a claim amongst the top high school-based films. Any teenager film deals heavily with angst, which is why I found the angst-heavy The Perks of Being a Wallflower harder to stomach. With a story that seems heavily favoured towards angst, I wished that the film had made Charlie more empathetic. Sometimes he just seemed like a victim of his own stupidity. The final scenes of the film are hard to stomach, especially the performance (and really, the necessity of the role) of Joan Cusack. The film, which had done fairly well until then, fell into the trap of trying to make its hero having a life altering experience when the entire story had changed his life. Logan Lerman, with his dark, broody eyes, is almost perfectly and fatally cast as Charlie. I did not want The Perks of Being a Wallflower to be just another high school story. I should have been more realistic. At least Emma Watson and Ezra Miller were great.

My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4.

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