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The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  Reviewed by Damien Straker on November 28th, 2012
   Roadshow
presents a film directed by Stephen Chbosky, based
   on the novel 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower'
  
Screenplay by Stephen Chbosky
   Starring:
Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Paul Rudd
   and Mae Whitman
  
Running Time: 102 minutes
  
Rating: M
  
Released: November 29th, 2012


7/10

 


Stephen Chbosky has chosen to adapt and direct his own epistolary novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It's the story of fresher student Charlie (Logan Lerman), a lonely kid starting high school who is in need of some company. His sister Candace is busy with her abusive boyfriend and his brother is rarely seen. Charlie admires his English teacher Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd), who supplies him with extra work, but he still needs a real friend. He finds company in two older students: Sam (Emma Watson) and the flamboyant Patrick (Ezra Miller), who are step brother and sister. They invite Charlie into their circle of friends where they party and involve themselves in stage performances. Charlie is also introduced to Buddhist-Punk Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman), who develops feelings for him. However, the group becomes aware of Charlie's insecurities, including traumatic memories of his aunt and a friend who killed himself. Sam and Patrick's own demons come to the fore, including his secretive relationship with a footballer named Brad (Johnny Simmons).


It's hard growing up. It's even more problematic writing about those experiences with candour. Stephen Chbosky says that his novel, published in 1999, isn't autobiographical but he relates to the experiences. Many others would also testify to that because according to the New York Times, over 700,000 copies of the novel were sold by 2007. Why then has it taken so long for a film adaptation? Until now the political climate has been unsettled. After its popular release, the novel was banned in places like Massachusetts and Long Island because of its frank depiction of sexuality and drug use. This censorship movement coincided with a bill in 2004 that was proposed by Alabama legislator Gerald Allen, who argued that all public libraries should be banned from purchasing books that "promote homosexuality", by containing gay characters or written by gay authors. As to how close the bill came to passing, Allen met with George W. Bush five times.


Since then, Hollywood has been increasingly liberal about sex so it's easier for films to explore the subject. However, studios still demand mainstream appeal, which means that compromises are made in exchange for financial support. Perks was developed by John Malkovich's Mr. Mudd studio but distributed by Summit Entertainment, who produced the Twilight films. This accounts for the timid approach to the subject matter. The film settles for being relatable and nostalgic, rather than insightful or upfront. It's a missed opportunity. I haven't read the novel, but I am told it cuts even deeper, dealing with issues like date rape, pregnancy and abortion. Those threads have been omitted from the film, which means there are still social barriers that aren't being crossed. Simultaneously, Chbosky's film seems bloated and distant. It has a checklist of confronting teenage issues, which could sadly be referred to as clichés. Suicide, hallucinations, gay bashings, drug use and child abuse, are some of the major concerns here. Why include these though if you're only going to address them at arm's length?

At least tonally the depiction of high school is handled with more maturity than many similar films. The sense of isolation and the desire for friendship are Chboksy's most resonant and successful themes. A long shot of Charlie sitting by himself reflects his dislocation from the rest of the school. Quiet moments like this have a reality to them, as does the bonding between misfits, which the film depends on. High school clichés about jocks and outcasts are subverted with a refreshing dose of optimism and humour. Charlie and his friends are not typical high school losers seen in other films. They happily live in their own private circle. "Welcome to the island of misfit toys", Sam announces. They go to parties and social gatherings together and even participate in performances of The Rocky Horror Picture Show on stage. This in turn helps Charlie become a less introverted student in class too, which shines a more positive light on high school itself. 


A more complex notion is that Charlie's circle of friends is bound by a lack of self-worth. In each other's company Chbosky's characters are not unhappy but each possesses some internal damage from either a past or perpetually flawed relationship: "We accept the love that we think we deserve", Charlie notes. Some of this material is very involving and powerful. A subplot involving Charlie's forced relationship with Mary-Elizabeth is one of the film's best threads. It shows deep flaws in Charlie's character but also provides the film with a dramatic motor and explosive conflict within the group. Mae Whitman's work here, the impulsiveness to jump into a relationship and the inevitable hurt, is impacting and believable. Ezra Miller (We Need To Talk about Kevin, 2011) shows a different side to himself with great energy and a surprisingly acute feel for comic timing. But limiting the film to Charlie's perspective, like the novel, means that Patrick's gay relationship with Brad is kept at bay, until a melodramatic climax. Emma Watson also isn't quite gritty enough to play a girl who is meant to have slept around, though her bond with Charlie is still fun to watch unfold.


As for Charlie, there's uncertainty about how to translate the darker psychological material surrounding his character. His relationship with his aunt for example is presented through poorly realised flashbacks that obscure the issue instead of providing true insight. This is included in a deficient final quarter, which falters under cliché coming of age ramblings like: "We can't choose where we come from, but where we go from there". Overall, the film is relatable, funny and true, but it would have benefited from a defter touch. There are too many slow-motion scenes and montages that detract from the important issues that this sometimes palpable drama tries to face. What will it take for a mainstream film to pull no punches when it comes to adolescents and how much they carry on their shoulders?






 
 



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