As a film fanatic, I have a few rules that I follow diligently while watching (or preparing to watch) a movie. The most important one is that I refuse to have any preconceived notions about any movie before seeing it. I see it and judge it for what it’s worth. I don’t convince myself that it will be garbage (or gold, for that matter) based on who’s in it, who made it, or what it’s about.
But one thing I’ve come to terms with over the past few years is that that rule is unrealistic. Tenacious studio marketing, social media, movie blogs – all of these things make it damn near impossible to not form an opinion before the fact. I still do my best to walk into every movie feeling fresh, with no positive or negative bias toward it, but on the occasion of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I simply could not help myself.
I thought its trailer (which I must have seen against my will at least a dozen times in the theater) was a hammed-up version of the Coming of Age. I had no thoughts about star Logan Lerman (who I’d never heard of), but found his narration in the trailer trite and obnoxious. As much as I like Emma Watson’s candor in interviews (she seems like a genuinely smart, kind young woman), I’m no fan of the series that made her famous. The major selling point for me was Ezra Miller, arguably the best actor of his generation, who I have seen and loved in a number of independent films. But he wasn’t enough to get me in the seat.
Then it happened. A slow, positive buzz started following Perks wherever it went. The reviews I scanned were honorable-to-ecstatic, the tweets I read used words like “real,” “heartbreaking,” and “hilarious,” but I still couldn’t be persuaded to give a shit. And then, one day, I did. And I can tell you, from the perspective of a passionate cinephile who attained negative bias based on nothing legitimate, sitting down and watching The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of the best decisions I made in 2012.
The film tells the story of Charlie (Lerman), an intensely shy teenager who is paralyzed by fear at the thought of entering high school. He goes, and his experience is what high school is: fucking dismal. He’s made fun of, called homosexual slurs for reading books for fun, cast away to an empty lunch table, and so on. One evening after bravely attending a football game by himself, he becomes fast friends with wallflower superstars Patrick (Miller) and Sam (Watson). A mutual admiration grows between the three of them, as Charlie is introduced to a new group of friends that help make the hellish days of high school bearable.
That paragraph encapsulates the first 10 minutes of the film, and that’s enough plot exposition. For this review, anyway. Instead of revealing the film’s many truthful scenes, time is better spent explaining how and why the film works as well as it does.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is easily one of the most accurate films I have ever seen about American adolescence, and as honest a depiction of high school as I have ever witnessed. Immediately after viewing the film, I began raving about it on Twitter. The most prominent question I received (exclusively from my non-American followers) was if that was really what high school was like in the States. Yes, it is. Almost exactly. But then I thought about it, and there’s a very important clarification that needs to be made: this film depicts high school perfectly through the eyes of someone like Charlie (and Sam, and Patrick). If you were (or are) the shy, quiet type like Charlie, then this is exactly what it is like. I knew my fair share of Sams in high school, nice girls who slept around but didn’t give a shit what other people thought. Patricks were everywhere: the extrovert class clown who, down deep, had plenty of serious shit going on. I wasn’t any of them, but I knew plenty who were, and watching this movie was like watching them, which was kind of terrifying, but in a good way.
Logan Lerman has the difficult task of carrying the film, but carry it he does. From timid bookworm to drug-experimenting rebel to sexualized deviant, Lerman rides the arc of Charlie to exceptional results. Likewise Emma Watson and Ezra Miller, two rising stars who only cement their worth with their respective performances here.
If you’re someone who hasn’t read Stephen Chbosky’s popular source novel, or seen his film yet, then you might still be aware that this movie takes a turn in its third act. I won’t reveal what happens, but I will say that it is sudden, real, and devastating. These things happen, and I respect the hell out of this movie for depicting it with such frankness. Better than listening to me hint around this film’s accomplishments, do yourself a favor and sit down and watch it. If you are one-tenth as taken with it as I was, then it will be time well spent. A-