TIFF 2012: THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER Review

by     Posted 2 years, 38 days ago

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The indie coming-of-age drama is a plague on the indie festival, and Stephen Chbosky‘s The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the cure.  In place of the quirky, self-centered protagonist is a lonely, scared individual who finds the courage to greet the world with wonder rather than malaise.  In place of contrived conflict designed to occupy a sad and droll life, Perks tackles serious issues that would be difficult for anyone to face, let alone teenagers.  Free from a twee character and a lazy script, actor Logan Lerman delivers a wonderful, eye-opening performance in Chbosky’s big-hearted and finely crafted adaptation of his 1999 novel.

Charlie (Lerman) has begun writing to an unknown recipient he calls “friend” as a way to cope with stress.  He’s never been popular, he’s about to begin high school, he’s scared of returning to an emotional “bad place”.  After a few rough weeks, Charile finds joyous step-siblings Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson), who become his best friends and open him up to a world that appreciates his personality and sweet naivety.  The eponymous “Wallflower”, Charlie isn’t a loner, but an observer who is still learning his way and discovering the difficulty of coping with serious problems.

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It’s a simple premise, and Chbosky doesn’t have the luxury of the charming epistolary device of his novel (although the letters still factor in as a means of narration).  But Chbosky doesn’t need Charlie’s letters.  The filmmaker has the beating emotional heart of the characters, and there’s not a single false moment in the film.  Every character in Wallflower seems like a real human being rather than a jumble of neuroses and affectations.  The teenagers in Wallflower were either you or someone you knew in high school.  While we may cringe at the behavior of your high-school days, it doesn’t mean our feelings weren’t valid.

Chbosky perfectly balances the silliness of teenagers and the seriousness of their situations.  His writing is never insulting.  When we see Charlie, Sam, and Patrick’s friend Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman) rambling non-stop on the phone to the point where Charlie can put down the handset, walk away for little bit, and then return without her noticing, it’s not to diminish Mary Elizabeth.  She’s just self-involved and insecure.  You know, like a teenager.  Chbosky doesn’t think his characters are stupid.  He respects that they think they know everything, and that respect makes it possible for him to give them a problem that shows his characters how little they really know.  There’s nothing inflated or superficial about what Charlie, Patrick, and Sam face over the course of the story.  Their problems are ones that would force an adult to struggle, and those problems are amplified when a person lacks the emotional vocabulary to fully comprehend their situation.

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Chbosky has done a remarkable job streamlining his own novel, paring it down to its essential elements, and then providing a visual style that lets you know how long he’s had this movie mapped out in his mind.  It’s not a flashy picture, but it’s not stagey, and it’s particularly impressive considering this is Chbosky’s directorial debut.  Furthermore, he has done an exemplary job casting his movie.  I was left cold by Logan Lerman’s performances in Percy Jackson and The Three Musketeers, but he absolutely shines in Perks.  He plays Charlie with total vulnerability, which helps to put the audience in the shoes of his friends and family.  We want to protect him because he’s too sweet and earnest for this world, and we want to preserve his uninhibited kindness before he’s devoured by cynicism.  Miller may have the flashiest performance as the comic-relief who’s also dealing with a closeted boyfriend, but this is Lerman’s show, and it makes me excited to see what he’s capable of when paired with a smart script.

the-perks-of-being-a-wallflower-posterSeveral weeks ago, I read Perks of Being a Wallflower, and I think I would have loved it if I had read it when I was fifteen.  As an adult, I can pick out some of the excesses like how every single character is dealing with some kind of major abuse or trauma, but I can’t dismiss the novel’s loving sympathy towards its characters.  Through skillful direction, casting, scaling back the number of character arcs, and understanding what wouldn’t translate to the screen, Stephen Chbosky has made his film surpass his novel.  He’s also discovered the cure for the common, crummy coming-of-age story.

Rating: 8.7 out of 10

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  • Gabe

    I’m so relieved to know that you enjoyed the film. The book is a deep personal favorite of mine and I’ve been keeping my expectations fairly low. Reading this review, especially the praise of Logan Lerman’s performance, made my day.

  • Heather

    Thank you for this wonderful review. Logan Lerman has been getting several rave reviews and I’m so happy because he’s an under-rated actor. His problem is his movie choices at times have bad scripts or just use his physical abilities such as sword fighting, instead of his dramatic skills. He was wonderful in the shortlived WB series Jack and Bobby and impressive in films 3:10 To Yuma and My One And Only which showcased his dramatic acting skills instead of swinging a sword. I can’t wait to see him in Perks. I’ve read that Logan’s performance for Charlie’s breakdown scene was heartwrenching and not a single person could get through that scene without shedding tears. I’m so happy he’s finally getting noticed and with another great movie choice in Noah, the biblical story from director Darren Aronofsky, Logan’s proving he’s maturing and ready to take on dramatic roles that showcase his amazing acting talent.

    • Jay

      I just saw this flick last night and I had no problem getting through Charlie’s breakdown scene “without shedding tears”, though I will admit that my neighbor turned into a blubbering fool.

      The movie was a major disappointment.

      “The Myth of the American Sleepover” captures the awkardness of the teen/high school years so much better and with a little something (that “Perks” lacks) called SUBTLETY.

  • John

    A strange creature – a film that is the middle ground between a hipster-esque cliché and resonating in its honesty. Like a far lesser Juno – but still worth a watch, perhaps two.
    Chobsky camera work isn’t grand, but he keeps it simple for the most part, which is the right choice. I like the idea of author turned screenwriter turned director, but his dialogue is a little stilted, particularly when the characters are having their ‘heart-to-heart moments’. Otherwise, good direction.

    Score is a little over done, but having been a teenager in the 90s, I enjoyed the throwback.

    Lerman is aptly awkward and vulnerable, discomfortingly honest in his portrayal, although some of the dialogue seems difficult to work with without sounding cheesy or cliché. Speaking of cheese, Ezra Miller proves his chops and his ability to straddle what could be cheesy, but in his capable hands, is far from. Parts flamboyant and comedic, parts nuanced and pensive, his Patrick is excellent. He is a thoughtful actor. Looking forward to seeing him in Madame Bovary alongside Mia Wasikowska, which is set to film this year.
    Which brings me to the other large supporting actor in Perks who seems to be the focus of most of the films publicity. Emma Watson, while fine in the few Harry Potter films I have seen (mostly the former ones – which means I should be better positioned, as a viewer, to be convinced by her), is the victim of an odd ratio. Far too much screen time for such limited talents. Odd accent; incapable of occupying space gracefully; dialogue delivery and mannerisms are distracting; expressions seem forced and thoughtless. She does not seem capable of subtlety or nuance. Weakest link in the film.
    Rudd is solid, and the rest of the ensemble are believable.

    All in all, a good film, and great quality for its demographic. Fans of the book will enjoy the film immensely, and so will the teenagers of today.

    My ‘grades’ are based relative to genre, and with excellent films like Ghost World, Juno, Restless etc in this sort of ilk, I’d give Perks a good 70%. Above average, Patrick/Nothing. Above average.

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  • D

    Saw this at an advance screening and overall really worth a viewer’s time. Certainly better fare than all those other YA novels turned to films being devoured by a young audience. There is also a timeless quality to Perks which will resonate with older audiences (don’t let the trailer fool you). While Miller gives a scenery chewing performance, Logan Lerman really carries the ball on this one with a subtle, touching performance. I would have wanted less screentime devoted though to Emma Watson’s character and more time alloted to Charlie’s relationship with Bill played by Paul Rudd

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