Ten Words or Less Review: Being young sucks, but it makes for a good movie.
Teenage coming of age stories may be a dime a dozen but ones which don’t feel like insufferable bullshit are few and far between. Long before movies reduced adolescence to sexual hijinks involving pies and flutes it had mostly been a breeding ground for dick jokes. Even semi-decent exercises in teen shenanigans like Easy A or 10 Things I Hate About You seem pretty vacuous in the end. Outside the occasional indie flick the last mainstream filmmaker who seemed to have a genuine investment in putting some kind of accurate teenage portray to film was John Hughes and even he didn’t get it right all the time. Sorry kids but Pretty in Pink is pretty silly. All that brings us to The Perks of Being A Wallflower, a well honed and insightful exercise in angsty teen drama. It’s kind of like Donnie Darko, minus the terrifying bunny and vibes of impending apocalypse.
Charlie is facing one of the worst crucibles of teen life, where does a kid with no real friends sit in the lunch room? With no visible options presenting themselves, Charlie is forced to go solo, manning a table all by his lonesome. Few fates in life are worse than this. Perhaps leprosy but considering the ramifications of such an act one might as well have the limb eroding disease. Charlie’s life goes on this way for a while until he’s accepted by Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller), two misfit sibling seniors who shun mass acceptance to form their own informed clique with the other kids who are too clever to mesh with the pack. Charlie has issues, some troubling mental ones which linger at the edges of his psyche, looking for reasons to crawl into his life and pull the rug out from under him. With the encouragement of his new friends and a less despondent demeanor around him, and with a little help from mild drug use, Charlie slowly grows into a unique and interesting person, conflicted a lot by love and confused by the actions of his friends when they don’t add up emotionally. And when they don’t add up, Charlie starts to lapse into the dark corners in his mind where pain and anguish reside.
Director Stephen Chbosky channels the Hughesian vibe of films like The Breakfast Club into his adaptation of his own acclaimed novel. By adapting and directing his own book he’s avoided the pratfalls which descend upon those poor bastards who give their works to Hollywood and hope for the best but end up with the worst. I’m sure there’s no small level of autobiography in his story which explains why the material resonates so well. He understands the pangs of emotional growth, the hopeless feelings of unreciprocated crushes and the fortitude it takes to be your own person. This isn’t to say Chbosky is a perfect filmmaker. Early in the story Charlie mentions a friend who commits suicide only to never hear the friend mentioned again. And the crux of Charlie’s anguish, his relationship to a deceased aunt, takes a dark turn in the finale but the last revelation isn’t made very clear. I had to ask a friend who had read the book if I had interpreted it right. And I really have a hard time swallowing that a bunch of hip kids who love great music would not know a David Bowie classic. But the movie is set in the pre-interent world of the late 80’s/early 90’s, making mix tape age so I’ll let that go.
Perks contains performances the young cast should look back on fondly years from now. Logan Lerman is 20 but he can pass himself off as the barely adolescent cousin of Tobey Maguire. His is a quiet and unassuming part made whole through glances and small gestures. When Charlie turns desperate and lost, he’s earned our sympathy and keeps the anguish and despondency believable. Ezra Miller’s Patrick is the most slippery slope role of the bunch. Playing the flaming gay guy can always blow up in the audiences face but Chbosky’s screenplay has more respect for the role than to turn it into a screaming joke. Emma Watson shines best and brightest of all. Grown up and with the Potterverse in her past, those who proclaimed her most likely to have a career as an actress post Potter are given a lot of ammunition for their argument. She’s a glowing and gorgeous screen presence, capable of anything. May Hollywood treat her well and bestow her with great roles for decades to come.
I’m going to have to shuffle around my Top 10 of 2012, again. Of course I like the films on the list a great deal but there’s an absence of heart in most of the movies. I commented at the time of the posting that there was too much action populating things but Perks rectifies that issue a great deal. It has a warmth and emotional insight into things that most movies, regardless of being about teens or not, are afraid or unable to nail down. And since it made jack while at the theater I know most of you haven’t seen it so hop to it. There’s very little better you’re going to find.