Thursday, September 27, 2012
Here comes another high school drama. "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" opens in San Diego on September 28th, and knocks the mainstream, less hipster-y socks off other films of the genre.
"Perks of Being a Wallfower," is based on a novel of the same name by Stephen Chbosky, director and screenwriter the film.
High school dramas, such as "Juno," and "The Breakfast Club," get fairly deep. Parental pressures and teen pregnancy are rough subjects. However, the emotional scars and revelations in those films are a breeze compared to the baggage "Perks" unloads on us. Thoughtful stories like these serve several reminders to the audience: life is hard; friends are your best chance at happiness; and growing up (especially during high school) sucks.
While there is a plethora of dramatic revelations to experience, the nuanced humor and subtle build-ups are a realistic and welcome aspect of the film. The delivery is great, particularly by the outrageous, scene stealing Patrick (Ezra Miller) in his initial scenes. Patrick's huge persona is what draws Charlie (Logan Lerman) to the quirkiest, most imbalanced group of friends in the school, our protagonists.
Sam (Emma Watson) is one of the most endearing weirdos. Her "bolemist" comment made early in the film caught me off guard and went over my head. I'm not sure if I was too young or too old to understand what she meant. She quickly explains that being a devout bolemist means she religiously practices bolemia. That was it. Elements of the film like this, along with Patrick's outlandishness and Charlie's thoughtful narration, keep the audience engaged. This also keeps the opening scenes moving along while setting the awkward tone. These random, off-kilter, nuggets of weird humor by Sam and Patrick wane as the film rolls on, though, as we enter the eye of the emotional hurricane that is Charlie's mind.
Charlie is a puzzle of a young man -- an eloquent, thoughtful, freshman (and amazing writer) facing the best and worst years of his life as he recovers from childhood tragedy. He is our hero. His mission: to make it through high school mostly in-tact. Really, he's one of the best heroes I've seen in a high school drama. Maybe because of how terrible his past seems. But the totality of his tragic history is not even fully revealed by the end of the film. Chbosky trusts his audience to put together pieces that aren't explicit. Even the most gripping scenes aren't completely coherent or available to us. This helps the story stay engaging and memorable even after the film is finished.
And I would be remiss to leave out the music. None of the praised tunes caught my ear especially. But it's a theme the film focuses on heavily. Music is a relationship lubricant for the characters -- it helps them relate to each other quickly and deeply, share their past, and experience the infinince they so dearly chase. Music is their drug of choice. This is a typical tool for the genre. "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist" is the first that comes to mind. Similarly in both films, music is highest form of communication and art for our protagonists. But they have to like the cool, off-beat, "indy" stuff, everything else is useless for their purposes.
The story isn't smooth. Some sequences feel out of place, like Charlie's accidental relationship to the bossy, Buddhist-Anarchist of the group, Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman). These sequences result in a disjointed flow of the film. But that's how high school is, and that's how it feels. It's weird. Whether this is artistic preference by Chbosky or a result of production time crunching, the film feels like growing up. We come to know our characters in a natural way, meaning, it isn't perfect. Their flaws are evident, and sometimes we like them, sometimes not. I imagine that's how we are meant to relate with them deeper -- to know all their flaws and accept them regardless.
"Wallflower" is rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, drug and alcohol use, sexual content including references, and a fight – all involving teens. (Really, I'm surprised its original R rating was overturned.)
Companion Viewing: Charlie Bartlett (2007), Breakfast Club (1985)
Nathan John is a former KPBS News Assistant and just couldn't stay away so now he is a guest blogger for Cinema Junkie.