Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Man on Film: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Having always sort of written off the book without knowing much about it other than having an inkling that it wouldn't exactly speak to me, I went into the free advance screening of The Perks of Being a Wallflower on Monday with an idea that I probably wouldn't like it. Moreover, I was expecting to to be a bit grating.

My preconceived notions as to what the film was going to be were wrong.

For those who did read the book--roughly 90% of my friends at the time of its release--I would imagine if you held it dearly in your heart, you will be pleased at its adaptation for the screen. The chief reason for that, of course, is that the book's author, Stephen Chbosky, adapted the screenplay and directed the film. Unlike any book adaptation in my recollection, the spirit of the original work isn't being channeled through second- and third-parties before reaching the silver screen. One would imagine that Chbosky knows what Chbosky was thinking when he wrote the book, that the subtler elements of theme and character that endeared the book to so many weren't left at the wayside.

If you've read reviews here, or worse yet know me, you would probably assume I would have hated this movie, at least if you're unfamiliar with the source material and had only seen the trailer. But goddammit, The Perks of Being a Wallflower was really fucking good.

Yes, there is way too much screen time devoted to the act of high schoolers discovering music and then idealistically extolling its virtues, but somehow it plays as it is supposed to play. These are kids. As adults, we are watching them, often painfully, discover these things.  There is an authorial knowledge that these moments are awkward. Where films like Garden State or to a lesser but still significant degree 500 Days of Summer pit musical taste as a central redemptive or appealing characteristic for a character (and more importantly those characters are fully-formed adults), these are kids. It may sound stupid, but these things matter more when you're 15. Fuck, everything seems to matter more when you're 15.

Where The Perks of Being a Wallflower is different from those films is in the heart of the film. While there are comedic elements, this isn't exactly a comedy. More than most teen movies, this gets at the heart of the pain that comes along with growing up. Perhaps the film spoke to me more because it's set against the backdrop of the mid-90s (if I were to guess, I'd say it's about 1993 or '94) when I came of age, but a movie that I didn't really want to speak to me spoke to me. My issues growing up paled in comparison to those of some of the central characters, but it seemed a snapshot of my life at the time, short of drug-use, which was around but I never (perhaps unfortunately) dabbled with.

I'd be remiss if I neglected heaping praise on the principle cast. Logan Lerman (who TSLF refers to as Percy Jackson, but other readers would be much more likely to remember as the tag-along son in the great 3:10 to Yuma remake) excelled in a complex role. Emma Watson, despite playing yet another teenager, got to play a much more adult role and did so adeptly in her attempt to distance herself from the role that made her but could still break her. Ezra Miller played the exuberant but damaged gay teen with elan, making you wish that he was your gay friend growing up, infusing nearly all of the energy into the film single-handedly. As far as the secondary cast is concerned, Paul Rudd and Nina Dobrev (probably the only time they'll ever be put in a sentence together in this blog's history and/or future) both did well but felt underused. Say what you will about Dobrev, but she's easy on the eyes.

Really, though, this is Chbosky's world, and they all live in it. He pulls this all off, leading me to actually be curious enough to contemplate checking out Jericho.

All in all, as an outsider to the original work, I have to say I liked The Perks of Being a Wallflower, despite what the skeptic/cynic that resides in my blackened, deadened heart wanted me to feel about the film.

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