The Perks of Being a Wallflower-attachment0

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Movie Information

The Story: A transformative year in the life a troubled introvert and his coming of age with the help of some new friends. The Lowdown: Splendidly entertaining and involving film that is both funny and surprisingly perceptive. See this one.
Score:

Genre: Drama/Comedy/Romance
Director: Stephen Chbosky
Starring: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Mae Whitman, Kate Walsh, Dylan McDermott, Paul Rudd
Rated: PG-13

The only preconceptions I had about Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower — apart from the natural and not unreasonable resentment over being at a theater at 9 a.m. for a press screening — were grounded in some clips I encountered on a talk show. The clips — by their lighting and physical appearance, not content — had reminded me of nothing so much as a soap opera. To say that those clips did the film no favors is an undestatement of a sizable nature, because the film itself didn’t give me that “daytime drama” feeling at all. Indeed, The Perks of Being a Wallflower turned out to be an utterly professional-looking theatrical film — and, as it turns out, one of the year’s most agreeable surprises on every level.

I can’t address how the film reflects Chbosky’s source novel, since I’ve never read it. (One assumes that it at least represents the book as nearly as he wanted it to — though what Chbosky wanted now may well differ a bit from the source book that came out in 1999.) However, it clearly adheres to the basics — the story of an introverted, troubled high school freshman, Charlie (Logan Lerman), who becomes involved with a pair of seniors — step-siblings Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson) — who end up helping to usher him into the world. That sounds a lot more simplistic and trite on paper than it is in action. The story is difficult to synopsize in a way that conveys the sense of the movie — and even more difficult to do without giving away things the film clearly intends the viewer to come to in the course of the story.

What matters about the film — what makes it very much worth your while — lies in the characterizations and the manner in which the movie manages to capture a moment in time that resonates beyond the film’s particulars. The story is set in the early 1990s — about 20 years after I was the age of the characters and 20 years away from where we are now. Yet it feels authentic to all those eras. Certain things clearly date it — the music (though most of it is earlier than the action) and the mixtapes stand out — but the feelings it generates are universal. For example, people may not make mixtapes (or even mix CDs) anymore, but they still look to music to find connections to things they’re feeling, and they still use music to try to connect with other people — and there’s still hope that that music will convey things they can’t say for themselves. More than this, though, the film plugs into that moment in time when we find ourselves feeling as if we are part of a like-minded group of people. But it also touches on the painful truth that the moment is finite and to some degree even illusory.

Don’t misunderstand, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is by no means a gloomy affair. Much of it is quite funny and all of it is life-affirming (in the best sense of that term), but it isn’t without its bittersweet side. This isn’t some silly teen movie, but a film of some depth that just happens to have its fair share of humor. The cast — especially the three leads — is particularly good and certainly better than you might expect. If all you know Logan Lerman from is Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010), he will undoubtedly come as a surprise here. Similarly, Emma Watson proves there’s more to her than the Harry Potter films suggested. The real revelation, though, is Ezra Miller. His one-note performance in the grotesquely overrated We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) did nothing to indicate the brave and nuanced performance he gives here. I know we’re at the time of year when a higher level of films is starting to fill theater screens, but don’t let this little gem get lost in the shuffle. Make time for it. Rated PG-13 on appeal for mature thematic material, drug and alcohol use, sexual content including references, and a fight — all involving teens.

Starts Friday at Carolina Asheville Cinema 14

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

36 thoughts on “The Perks of Being a Wallflower

  1. Jeremy Dylan

    The Perks of Being a Wallflower turned out to be an utterly professional-looking theatrical film

    I’d like to see that on a poster!

    “5 stars” – L B James, Film Mag
    “Brilliant” – E L Whisty, Pawnee Today
    “Utterly professional-looking” – Ken Hanke, Simian Monthly

    On a more seriousness note, I may actually have to check this out after reading your review.

    Everything I’d heard about this film made it sound like the last word in force indie-quirk and populated by the kind of people who, if I met them in real life, I’d be tempted to feed to a woodchipper.

    But this is a pretty strong recommendation, so on the to-watch list it goes.

  2. Edwin Arnaudin

    Everything I’d heard about this film made it sound like the last word in force indie-quirk and populated by the kind of people who, if I met them in real life, I’d be tempted to feed to a woodchipper.

    That’s exactly what it is.

  3. Edwin Arnaudin

    It all comes down to the earnestness. Either it’s charming and just right, or over-the-top and repellant.

  4. Ken Hanke

    Well, it also comes down to individual perception on which it is. Yours simply differs from mine. I didn’t find the movie over-the-top or repellent and you did. Maybe I identified with its key elements more than you did. We both went in predisposed to dislike it (though for different reasons) so that aspect’s a wash.

  5. Edwin Arnaudin

    We both went in predisposed to dislike it

    No no no! I go into every movie intent on liking it. Whether or not that happens is up to the film. About my only hesitation was the typically like-minded Karina Longworth’s 50 grade on MetaCritic. I didn’t even read her blub until today and did a double-take when it ended up being the same as my main issue with the film.

  6. Ken Hanke

    I go into every movie intent on liking it.

    I find that an incredible assertion — and so will you if you end up reviewing everything that comes along. In any case, you had your hesitation based on her score and I had mine based on badly chosen clips on TV.

  7. Xanadon't

    Nearly every film set in high school makes me glad those days are long past– or are simply so far off the mark as not to register anything. This one actually insisted that I get reacquainted with my 15 year-old self. The remarkable thing is that in doing so the film does every bit as good a job of making me appreciative and even nostalgic for those times, those friendships, those urgent and exciting states of mind as it does reminding us how maddening, confusing, and downright stupid much of it all was.

  8. Edwin Arnaudin

    I find that an incredible assertion

    I know! But it’s true!

    and so will you if you end up reviewing everything that comes along.

    That’s the goal…well, the reviewing everything part. It’s just in the last year or so that I’ve started to ease out of “only see movies I want to see” mode. Reviewing discs for DVD Snapshot helps. Even with the worst looking of those, though, I always figure I could be pleasantly surprised.

    How long until the idealism ends?

  9. Ken Hanke

    How long until the idealism ends?

    Wanna join me Friday morning for Paranormal Activity 4 intent on liking it?

  10. Edwin Arnaudin

    Wanna join me Friday morning for Paranormal Activity 4 intent on liking it?

    I would if I could. Catching it Sunday.

  11. Ken Hanke

    I would if I could. Catching it Sunday.

    And you’re intent on liking it? The thing is that being “intent of liking” a thing or being suspicious of it really makes little difference in the end. I was expecting to dislike Moulin Rouge! and intent on liking Match Point. Neither worked out that way. But realistically, by the time you’ve sat through half a dozen Adam Sandler pictures — or more than two Rob Schneider ones — I think you’re perfectly justified in expecting major suckage to ensue.

  12. Edwin Arnaudin

    And you’re intent on liking it?

    Yes.

    I think we’re essentially saying the same thing here. Maybe my wording is off, but I’ll see it with an open mind, giving it plenty of room to impress. I’m certainly wary after #3, especially with the same directing team back for more, and I figure you are, too. But I hope to be entertained, which is what I hope for with every movie. Whether I am or not is up to the movie.

  13. Ken Hanke

    Well, I have not been entertained by the other three, so this will have to do more than come up with a successor to the oscillating-fan-cam to whelm me.

  14. Edwin Arnaudin

    They have their moments. The last one was especially low in the payoff department…almost as if Michael Haneke directed it.

  15. Xanadon't

    I believe we are on the same page here — or at least in the same chapter.

    Speaking of pages and chapters, I’ll go ahead and say it: The movie is better than the book.

    Well, I have not been entertained by the other three, so this will have to do more than come up with a successor to the oscillating-fan-cam to whelm me.

    Ooo, I hope this one has automatic-garage-door-cam!

    The last one was especially low in the payoff department…almost as if Michael Haneke directed it.

    Ha! I knew there had to be a theoretically way to make the franchise more depressingly lifeless.

  16. Ken Hanke

    Speaking of pages and chapters, I’ll go ahead and say it: The movie is better than the book.

    I am mildly curious to read the book, but only mildly. The excerpts I’ve encountered seem less resonant than I find the film.

    Ooo, I hope this one has automatic-garage-door-cam!

    I’m leaning toward the ceiling-fan-cam.

    Ha! I knew there had to be a theoretically way to make the franchise more depressingly lifeless.

    Spoken like someone who won’t be watching this in four hours.

  17. Ken Hanke

    Ooo, I hope this one has automatic-garage-door-cam!

    Without getting into details, you come closer to getting your wish than I did. This was my wife’s first experience with these. She said, “That might be the worst movie I’ve ever seen.” I will say nothing further…for now.

  18. Xanadon't

    Without getting into details, you come closer to getting your wish than I did.

    Motion-detector-cam? Agh, the suspense is just killing me. It’s very similar to all the terrible excitement of waiting for an Asheville city bus when profoundly hung-over and needing to retrieve the car I left downtown. Will the bus be two minutes late? Or eight minutes late? Oh, it’s such a joyful cocktail of nervous intrigue and elation that I can’t even explain it.

    On a completely unrelated to anything note, what the bejeebus is the deal with this Carrie remake that just came to my attention? And Julianne Moore? Wonder if it will be worse than The Forgotten.

  19. Ken Hanke

    On a completely unrelated to anything note, what the bejeebus is the deal with this Carrie remake that just came to my attention? And Julianne Moore? Wonder if it will be worse than The Forgotten.

    Well, offhand I’d say it looks like another one of Hollywood’s bad ideas. I can think of few things less in need of a remake. And here I thought it was a nice touch that the first episode of American Horror Story: Asylum used music from the real Carrie.

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