Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower (TIFF 2012)
PLOT: Charlie (Logan Lerman)- a shy young man, is nervous upon entering high school. He's railing from his best friend's suicide the year before, and feels invisible to his classmates. He soon makes friends with Patrick (Ezra Miller) and his step-sister Sam (Emma Watson)- seniors who identify themselves as “wallflowers” and invite Charlie to join their group of friends.
REVIEW: Wow! Chalk this one up as a real TIFF surprise, as I walked into the press screening of THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER expecting a totally different, eminently more insipid film- based on the tacky trailers, that make this look like just another high school comedy. Luckily, that's not at all what this is, and hopefully people will give this a chance as it's probably the most affecting high school movie I've seen in years.
PERKS is based on Stephen Chbosky's cult-classic book- the favorite of many teen readers. Chbosky also directs, making his debut behind the camera. While there's certainly a danger in an author not only adapting his work for the screen, but also making his directorial debut, after watching Chbosky's film, I couldn't imagine it unfolding any other way. Considering the subject matter, which gets incredibly dark (delving into sexual abuse, homophobia, violence, etc), without Chbosky protecting the integrity of his own material, this probably would have been watered down.
If anything, it reminds me a bit of the old John Hughes high-school movies, helped in that regard that it's a period piece- taking place in the early nineties. The date is never given, and the period setting is more subtle (with minimal early nineties plaid), and possibly even unimportant, as the attempt is made to tell a universal coming of age story- but at least this means the soundtrack is excellent (complete with a dance sequence set to Dexy's Midnight Runners “Come on Eileen” and David Bowie's “Heroes” figuring prominently).
Cast-wise, PERKS is impeccable. Logan Lerman didn't make the best impression on me in THE THREE MUSKETEERS, but he's terrific as the vulnerable, shy Charlie. He's the kind of sensitive kid that is incredibly likable and easy to relate to and care about, and this is a big step-up for him. Emma Watson, in her first post-HARRY POTTER performance, totally shakes off Hermione Granger, with her short hair, and credible American accent- which bodes well for her post-POTTER career. Paul Rudd has a small role as Lerman's kind English teacher, who delights in the way his pupil begins to bloom.
But, the real scene-stealer is Ezra Miller, as Patrick, a gay teen (a HUGE deal in circa 1991-high school), and his compassionate, kind approach is night and day with his part in WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN. I honestly never thought I'd be able to look at him without cringing after that movie, but he's wonderful here- and totally subverts your expectations based on his previous, dark roles.
But what makes WALLFLOWERS so good? Well- other than the cast, the story takes an incredibly dark, emotional turn late in the film- and one that I won't spoil here, except to say that I found it incredibly moving. WALLFLOWERS really puts audiences through the wringer, mostly due to the fact that you get so attached to the characters, and begin identifying with them so strongly that I was near tears towards the end- which is a rare thing for me. I really hope audiences give THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER a chance, as it deserves being recognized for what it is- a truly great little film.