Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower


Shy, introspective Charlie (Logan Lerman) dreads starting high school in THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER.  He spent the summer leading up to his freshman year at Mill Grove in a psychiatric hospital and doesn’t have any friends or old acquaintances who want anything to do with him.  His sister Candace (Nina Dobrev) can be protective of Charlie, but as a senior with a boyfriend, she doesn’t want to be responsible for his development within the suburban Pittsburgh school’s delicate social ecosystem.

Charlie senses an outsider kinship with Patrick (Ezra Miller), a senior in his freshman shop class, and soon becomes friends with him and his step-sister Sam (Emma Watson).  He isn’t bothered that Patrick is gay or that Sam has a reputation based on her early high school years when upperclassmen would get her drunk at parties.  Their freely expressed individuality and comfort with being misfits in the eyes of their classmates proves greatly appealing to him.  Patrick and Sam’s acceptance into their circle is the most important thing in the world to Charlie.  That’s why it hurts all the more and could trigger another breakdown when his misreading of a cue requires him to keep his distance from his new friends for an unspecified amount of time.

THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER flutters with the excitement and terror that comes in being young and trying to find your way.  Everything is more keenly felt.  High school is perceived to be the entire world, and nothing is more meaningful than being wanted, even if it’s by the social outcasts.  In adapting his own novel, writer-director Stephen Chbosky makes plain the magnified emotions that define this stage of life. He treats the characters with respect for their limited perspective.  Although Charlie and his friends are partial to melancholy modern rock and vulnerable to the judgment of their peers, they’re not twee sorts who shrink at the first sign of difficulty.
THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER understands the prominent role music can play in the mental landscape of teenagers.  Set in the mid-’90s, it features a virtually perfect selection of tracks that express more than the characters can verbalize or might want to.  Chbosky nails the details regarding the thought and effort put into making mixtapes all the way down to goofing up the timing and running out of space.  His precision with the soundtrack earns him a pass for one improbability.  Even if these teens weren’t using the internet yet, they couldn’t identify “Heroes” by David Bowie? (Having these characters perform in THE ROCKY PICTURE SHOW floorshow cast is spot-on, though.)

Chbosky also excels at depicting the various dynamics within families and groups of friends.  Charlie’s parents and siblings, including a brother playing football at Penn State, don’t get a lot of screen time, but the few scenes with them convey the supportive environment and affectionate teasing that make it a crucial base for each member.  The sub-alliances, shifting lines, insecurities, and jealousies within a circle of friends are also laid out through careful attention to body language and implied messages.

THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER gets so many things right about adolescence that it’s unfortunate some of the angst gets explained in a third act revelation that isn’t really necessary.  It’s a specific plot point that takes away from the universality of everything before it.  This small misstep aside, THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER knows what it feels like to be young, to explore your hometown without adult supervision, and to hang out with people who get you better than you may know yourself.   

Grade: B

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