November 12, 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, 15-year-old Charlie is recovering from a traumatic event in his life (the recent death of his best friend) and trying to adjust to high school. He soon finds a group of friends who haven't followed the herd mentality of adolescence, or so he thinks, and begins to find himself in them. Actually, when you read the plot of this movie in those terms, it sounds awfully cheap.

Some of the ideas in Wallflower seem so calculated to wrench out your heart that you feel writer-director Stephen Chbosky, who adapted the screenplay from his own 1999 novel, is performing the work of a surgeon, not a filmmaker. His movie resurrects a lot of the old devices and archetypes, including the hip, self-aware English teacher (Paul Rudd, more amiable than he's ever been because he doesn't appear to be trying so hard, nor does he seem as jaded as usual), and the parents who "just don't get it." Yes, Wallflower has most of the cliched ingredients of a teen drama. But yet it also has an effervescent sort of charm to it. You can't really feel any disdain for the world this film creates, because it's authentic, imaginative. Moreover, the relationships between adolescents and grown-ups and between adolescents and adolescents, is shown to be far more complex than "the parents just don't get it" or "the jocks don't talk to the geeks." It's refreshing.

Logan Lerman carries Wallflower with his wonderful performance, one of the strongest by an up-and-coming actor in recent memory. His Charlie feels the pain of everyone he knows, even of those who have caused him pain, and he can't let it go, or imagine it away. He reminded me of young Timothy Hutton in Ordinary People. Lerman makes it look so easy because he is, often, the most together of his friends (probably because he's hiding all his own problems so he won't fall apart.) The supporting cast includes Emma Watson, as Sam, the girl Charlie has a crush on, and Ezra Miller, as Patrick, Sam's step-brother, a remarkably self-aware young man who's also miserable because he's gay and has to keep his relationship with one of the football players a secret.

Wallflower is a wistful movie, one that makes you slightly depressed to have passed your teenage years, and slightly exuberant because you remember how bad they were, even if they weren't as cinematically bad as in this movie. (There are a lot of lovely moments in between the sad parts, though). I kept going back in my mind to John Hughes' movies, as they were, for me, the quintessential high school movies, even though they failed to reflect my own high school experience, which of course happened later than the 1980s. The high school experience that's reflected in Wallflower isn't in the same territory as a John Hughes movie though. It's more realistic, less sitcomish. You almost wish the John Hughes vision of high school life could be true, because it's such a fairy tale. Full of complications but all of them solved by the denouement. Wallflower won't solve the problems. It illuminates the people and leaves the problems where they are: some will go away with time, some won't. But the spirit that thrives in this joyful movie isn't nearly as temporal as those four years of prison, hell, and torment, or alternately freedom, euphoria, and excitement. And I liked that about it.

With Dylan McDermott and Kate Walsh as Charlie's parents, Johnny Simmons, Melanie Lynskey (as Charlie's Aunt Helen), Mae Whitman, Erin Wilhelmi, Joan Cusack, and Tom Savini. 102 min. ½

No comments: