Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower


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-

28 comments:

  1. What a marvelous surprise, eh? :-) I haven't seen this yet, and I skipped the novel, and I am really looking forward to it.

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    1. I think you'll appreciate the hell out of this one. It is spot on. Very very real.

      Make sure you come back and let me know what you think!

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  2. Good review Alex. One of my favorites of the year and I don't know if it's because I just got out of high school and I'm a bit nostalgic, but either way, it touched me, it felt real, and it touched me the way I never expected it to. That damn Ezra Miller! The kid's going to continue with a great career I hope.

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    1. Thanks Dan. This one really moved me as well. It was honest and rather unflinching. So accurate to how high school really is. I was stunned.

      Miller, man. That dude's got it.

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  3. Great review! I'm glad you enjoyed the movie, I think it may sneak in my top 10 of the year. I really enjoyed the two lead guys, though Watson was a bit of a miscast, however she did what she could.

    I think the film does great job in depicting high school experience, not necessarily just American high school experience. I'm from Europe and I strongly related to many events in the movie - the group of friends you sense you belong to, the reckless things you do, first crashes and awkward break ups. I think that's why the movie works so well, because no matter where you are and who you are, high school has some common events for all of us.

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    1. Thanks! Ah, I love hearing that this film is relatable to people of other cultures. Many of the tweets I received that evening were from people who had idea that this is what high school is like in the States. So, basically, I'm glad to hear that high school sucks all over the world, and not just here. Ha.

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  4. Lovely review Alex. I really loved this film, even though my teenage was so vastly different. I guess it was because I would have probably been a Charlie. Loved Lerman and Miller, and Watson is so pretty. And the songs!
    Also, the fact that Chbosky made this is nothing short of awesome.

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    1. Thanks! One of the things that struck me most about this movie was that yeah, the writer of the novel actually directed a very good film.

      I know you're a big fan of this flick, so I was really glad I was able to enjoy it as much as you!

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  5. I likened it to a modern John Hughes 80's teen movie, with some more dramatic bite and relatable story. Being pretty much, aside from a few details thankfully, Lerman's character through High-School, he plays it well and entirely believable. I didn't know anyone that looked or was like Watson's character though, and any girl who was didn't give a flying fuck about me, but that's how it was and how it is now. Anyway, the important thing is that I liked all of 'Wallflowers' gang I wanted to hang-out with these people for the duration of the running time. A tad too melodramatic at times, but that's high school. Should have up my 'Waiting Room' review today if you want to check it out, one of the very best this year.

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    1. I think that's a fair comparison: Hughes with a bite.

      You're right, whether or not you (or I) personally knew these characters in high school, the important part is that they were believable here. They definitely kept my attention for the duration, better than I could have ever expected.

      I can't wait to see Waiting Room. Definitely need to track that one down.

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    2. Yeah, the Waiting Room is definitely must see for you. Showing the real human drama underneath the surface of everyday life, putting a face to social issues, the works. My mother being a Nurse Practioner really made this one hit home for me in the end. Again one of the very best of the year, please feel free to read my post about it.

      What I also wanted to mention was that I didn't even notice until reading afterwards that this film was circa 1991, showing that high-school and their students never really change. The issues today that were prevalent decades ago are still felt loud and clear today, unfortunately.

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    3. Awesome, love hearing that. I still have no idea how I'll see Waiting Room. Like Smashed, it'll probably swing by for a week then vanish without a trace. I'll definitely keep my eye out. (Also, I bookmarked your review, and will read it after I've seen the flick. I never read reviews before seeing a movie, just a rule I set for myself!)

      I think it is very telling that Perks takes place in '91, because yeah, shit doesn't change. Which is really a goddamn shame.

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  6. So glad you liked this one. I had no preconceptions of the film before seeing it, so I was completely surprised by how great it really is. And Lerman, who I'd seen in a few films, blew me away. He gives one of my favorite male performances of the year.

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    1. Yeah man, I really loved this movie. Lerman was so perfect, so very high school. I fine indie film achievement right here.

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  7. I'll try and definitely see this film next month. It's among a list of 2012 leftovers I hope to see though I know there's a lot of 2012 films coming next year that aren't eligible for the Oscars. Plus, I'm eager to see what Emma Watson can do outside of the Harry Potter films.

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    1. Oh God, there is SO much for me to catch up on for my 2012 round up. Mostly foreign indies, but those are often my favorites, so we'll see. Watson was very good in this film, I was wholly impressed.

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  8. I loved this movie. Making my top ten no doubt.

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    1. Nice. I don't think it'll crack my Top 10, but it was damn fine indeed.

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  9. Lovely review Alex, I am so glad you liked it. I saw it the other day and just fell in love with it. It touched me and I related to it so much, that I cried for the last 5-10 min of the film- maybe I was just in an emotional state, who knows? but move me, it did! I wasn't a big fan of Watson, but both Miller and Lerman did a fantastic job. It was real, sweet, heartbreaking and touching. Definitely in my top 10 of 2012.

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    1. Nice, so glad you liked this one so much. I had a feeling what the jump cuts to his aunt were alluding to, but that didn't make it less impactful when you actually saw what was what. The brain is such a powerful thing, it can legitimately repress memories like that. Which I find fascinating and terrifying.

      I really loved Perks, so happy I came around to watching it.

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  10. Nice review Alex. I really enjoyed this one too. I liked the book and thought the film really did it justice. Among the various different characters I thought there was something for pretty much anyone to relate to, especially those who found high school difficult for whatever reason. I thought all three leads were excellent, particularly Lerman and Miller, and thought it had a superb soundtrack as well. Can't wait to check this one out again.

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    1. I'm glad to hear that it did the book justice, I was actually just wondering that. I'm not sure I can recall a novelist adapting AND directing the movie based on his or her own book. That's really quite something.

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  11. Great introduction to the review Alex - it's always interesting to know what mind-set people go into a film with. As much as we try to be neutral, it is rare to go into a film completely blind and without any notions of what you're about to see.

    I think the high school experience depicted in the film transcends nations and ages. Sure the insults might have changed or the things which we do might not be the same, but the gut of it all is the same.

    I went into this film knowing nothing and it blind-sided me so hard that I had a really big cry. It was a pretty amazing experience.

    Great review Alex

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    1. Thanks so much, Sam! I really felt it was important to admit here that I had foolish bias going into this flick. You're right, I so wish I could stay 100% neutral about every movie before I see it, but sometimes I just can't.

      Glad to hear the high school scenes were as impactful abroad as they were here. Intense stuff all around.

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  12. This one surprised the hell out of me as well. Really, really good movie. Quite the contrast from seeing Miller in We Need to Talk About Kevin, that's for sure. Glad to hear you dug this one, too, Alex.

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    1. I'm honestly so happy that we all seem to appreciate this film. Really truly floored me. Thanks for reading/commenting, Eric!

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  13. Well as I can noticed,the news travel very slow around the world,and becouse of that I am sorry.I have just watched this movie so I still have fresh imression on it,and for the first time in my life I decided,after i have watched some movie,to read someone's review or critic about that specific movie,and I decided that becouse this special movie made a change in my mind and in my heart.As i was on IMDB i noticed 309 critic about 'the perks of being a wallflower',and I said to my self why not,I have never read anyones critic before in my life,and I will happily have debate with the critic who proboly will say less things about this movie and not see him in real light. I accidently saw ''And So it Begins... [Alex Withrow]'' so i said this is so like the movie.the end was a new begining,let read Mr.Alex's critic.I was positively suprised,i didnt expected that it will be so termal so deeply told and explained.Thank you Mr Alex Withrow,I will sure read more critic from you. Like the main cartacter said 'we are infinite'. Looking forward to your critics

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    1. Hey there, thanks so much for stopping by and leaving such a kind comment. That's really nice of you.

      Comments like yours really make blogging worth it, truly. Really glad you enjoyed what I had to say about this movie!

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