Tuesday, 2 October 2012

FILM REVIEW: The Perks of Being A Wallflower

"We accept the love we think we deserve"

So earlier this year I got married (the bit where the blog was empty for a bit) and then went on a long holiday. And not one of my usual "here is today's itinerary" holidays, but a relaxing one where I was stuck on a massive boat for 8 days and my day's planning went so far as "what can I get from the breakfast buffet this morning?" and "how many milkshakes is it reasonable to have whilst sunbathing and before midday?" The great thing about being stuck on a boat as well is having lots and lots of time to read, something I don't get to do as often these days because of having an iPhone work. And also, I've been having a real problem with books lately as I keep starting deceptively boring ones and lose momentum 30 pages in (I won't name and shame). So I had to be really careful about the books that I chose to take away on my honeymoon cruise: I went with two authors I know and can rely on for becoming completely absorbed, and a well judged random choice - and that was Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I LOVE coming of age novels, and even more than that I LOVE stories set in schools: primary schools, high schools, boarding schools, prep schools, colleges, Universities, magic schools (well, within reason Potter fools). I'm still waiting for my Eureka! moment when the Internet finally tells me Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld is going to be made into a film (hurry up, Reitman/Baumbach). So with Perks it was almost guaranteed already that I would love it, and that extra oomph to read it was propelled by the fact the film of the book, directed and written by the author, was coming out in the Autumn. And I do like to read the book before the film if I can, and it's only a slip of a thing, really - especially nestled in my suitcase next to the monster of IQ84 by Haruki Murakami (which I'm STILL chewing on). So there is really no excuse for everyone else out there not to read it too - except for the fact the film The Perks of Being a Wallflower is out tomorrow in cinemas, and being such a nerd for this film not only have I read the book but I also jumped at the chance to get free tickets to a preview screening, where I also stole some pick'n'mix (what a teen rebel!). So a - now very rambly - early review for a change! Let me tell you if it's as good as the very fine novel, which I read in two days.

Charlie (Logan Lerman) is a Freshman (that's Year 10, to you and me) at High School, but his introverted personality means he has no friends, and his academic enthusiasm leaves him picked on by even the girls in his class. However he's desperate to turn things around, and strikes up a friendship with a boy he admires in his shop class (that's DT to you and me) Patrick (Ezra Miller) and his step-sister Sam (Emma Watson). Being Seniors (Year 13), his new friends help to enlighten Charlie to the side of being a teenager he had always missed out on: parties, alcohol, drugs, joy rides - even simply having someone to sit with at lunchtimes. Charlie almost instantly begins to fall for beautiful and feisty Sam, but she's going out with a college boy and sees him only as a younger brother. He instead finds himself pursued by Sam's best friend Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman), whilst secretly hoping for Sam to feel the same way about him but always wanting her happiness to come first. But Charlie's eagerness to please and reluctance to participate stems from a much darker place than sheer lack of confidence: as he reveals more to us as he narrates his life changing year, we learn about his connection to his Aunt Helen (Melanie Lynskey), and the trauma and the tragedy that begins to surface in flashbacks which finally admit the secret truth.

After reading the book, I had three chief worries about the film. 1) Because Chbosky is directing and writing the screenplay, would the adaptation be too precious - would he love his work so much that he would want to include every detail and that would make it dry? Not that the book is at all dull, but can he recognise the transition to make this story cinematic? This is his debut film, after all. 2) Would it go in the opposite direction and choose not to include the darkness in the novel that is hinted throughout but only revealed at the end? It's such a shocking and powerful reveal, and helps to explain so much about Charlie's character, it had to be included. 3) The casting. Ezra Miller is fantastic - Afterschool and We Need To Talk About Kevin must-sees, and this role as campy Patrick is such a refreshing role change for him. But Emma Watson as Sam and Logan Lerman as Charlie I was less convinced about - Emma Watson is so green as an actress having only done Harry Potter, and Logan was so bland in Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief - would they have the heft to pull off these emotionally damaged characters?

I needn't have worried about the latter. Lerman was a revelation - so awkward and shy at the beginning, brilliant playing giggly and stoned, and then a strength develops, such fierce loyalty to his friends, but then the cracks when they appear - beautiful scene when he collapses at New Years Eve, swamped by his memories of his Aunt Helen culminating in him lying in the snow and creating a snow angel - made me quiver. He is fantastic in this - so earnest, so childlike in his responses - when he deadpan tells Sam that his best friend killed himself last year, and she stares on in horror at his nonchalance (stoned, albeit) and then whispers to Patrick, "Charlie just told me that his best friend killed himself last year... I don't think he has any friends" as they look on at him drinking a milkshake, the toast Patrick raises is not in pity but in a determination to give this boy a chance to feel like he belongs and he matters - well from that point on I reached one of my tell-tale film loving states: when I'm perpetually on the verge of tears anytime anyone says or does anything remotely heartfelt (which was virtually half the movie, so you can work out how many times I cried).

And to negate my first two worries: such a great adaptation! Chbosky keeps the darkness in, with the flashbacks creeping up on you (and Charlie) more throughout the film until you realise the tragedy, and beyond that, the trauma this boy has repressed throughout his teenage life only to have it paralyse him towards the end of the film. It adds a layer I don't think anyone will be expecting, so as well as being a sweet coming of age tale about a wallflower blossoming into his own spotlight, it also deals with some very heavy subject matters, controlled with quiet power thanks to a fine cast. However, Watson is the definite weak link here - she throws her voice far too much (she sounded dubbed at times), and whilst she captures the slightly dorky but troubled teen well, she lacks the charisma and spark to truly convince you Charlie is besotted and head over heels for this girl. In the book she seems older, and has that unattainable magnetism about her and you understand Charlie's infatuation - but here she seems young and ordinary, if slightly pretentious (I always found the standing up in the truck thing a bit nauseating, plus she has no idea who David Bowie is). Miller is the spark of the film, proving he has excellent comic ability, but when his storyline ramps up towards the end he knows when to turn on the intensity. Playing Patrick could prove to be his best all round work so far.

The supporting cast are terrific too - particularly stand out for me was Charlie's dad played by Dylan McDermott, whom I loathed in American Horror Story but was warm and enduring here, and had the best line of the film: "Dad, can I borrow 30 dollars?" "20 dollars? What do you want 10 dollars for?" Charlie's sister - though she does get more to do in the book - is the perfect blend of spoilt high school girlfriend and over-protective sister played by Nina Dobrev - she is particularly great on the phone to Charlie at the end of the film; and Mae Whitman as Mary Elizabeth - her relationship and break up with Charlie is probably my favourite storyline in the book, and I was so pleased they captured the humour (when he just leaves her for long stretches on the phone and she doesn't realise he's gone), the awkwardness (their intimacy, Charlie's apathy) and the pain (the Truth or Dare amazing blow up) of it all. Poor Egg - at least she seems happy at the end. Really liked Paul Rudd as well as the English teacher, though wish Chbosky had included more of their friendship in the film (in the book Charlie visits his house and meets his wife). It just felt so well rounded - the characters are instantly real, 3D people with individual back stories, personalities, problems - this film may not be truly original in its themes, but it has so much to say, and does so eloquently and from a prevailing truth.

If there are faults it's the overly sweet ending which - even for me - was too cheesy to bear, though of course I cried like a loon. And though the story is wise, and so full of humour, it ties up things a little too neatly at the end - everything about the film is genuine apart from when it occasionally slips into its own fiction. Not quite matching the high bar set by Juno, but The Perks of Being a Wallflower is still one of the best films about adolescence and being on the outside looking in of recent years, and I'm just so glad it has done the book justice and I urge you to read and see both. Hope this isn't Chbosky's one hit wonder.

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