Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

Directed by: Stephen Chbosky
Runtime: 102 Minutes
Available at Redbox
5/5*

"All of my previous selves still survive somewhere inside of me, and my previous adolescent would have loved 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower.'" - Roger Ebert
Not being quite as far removed from my previous adolescent self that would love this film, I'll still say that it took me back to my previous self that really did love this film.

The film is based on the book by the same name and the writer (who has never directed a feature film before) is also the director, and I've heard many times that this book belongs on the shelf next to The Catcher in the Rye.  As a fan of The Catcher in the Rye, and now this film, I must admit that this book is now on my reading list.

This film knows what it's like to be young, growing up learning to have relationships and moving from one stage in life to another more than most.

The film is set in the early 1990's, and the primary characters all love late 80's, early 90's rock, which means that the soundtrack is made up of The Smiths, New Order, and David Bowie making it right up my alley. It made me kinda wish I had gone to high school and college in the early 90's, but I guess you don't get to choose something like that.  Music is important, I think it can help make things seem more real and memorable. Having a great soundtrack certainly helps this film (or any film for that matter).

The characters in this film make each other lots of mix tapes, I remember making lots of mix cds, but now we make each other playlists.  If the music itself didn't give away a rough date this story is set then the presence of tapes certainly will.

It's about Charlie (Logan Lerman), a naive-outsider just starting high school. He is a loner who doesn't really have any friends as he heads into high school, so he begins the film writing a diary in the form of letters to us (the viewers/reader if you are reading the book).

He is also dealing with a lot of stuff all at once. It's a coming of age story, and for some reason I never seem to grow tired of them.  They always seem to strike a cord with me. Everyone remembers these stories, and everyone has gone through something similar at some point in their life, which makes films like this easy to relate to.  And yet no matter how many we've seen, no matter how many times we've experienced our own sort of coming of age, it's like they didn't take and we're all waiting around for the next one.  They change us and help us grow, making them the moments in life we remember the most.


Charlie is dealing with the suicide of a friend, the death of his Aunt (whose memory constantly invades his mind), and watching his sister go through an abusive relationship.  He is a loner at school at first, but is eventually taken in by a group of quirky, nonconformist seniors who help break him out of his shell.

Patrick (Ezra Miller) is a fun, outgoing person who is comfortable in his own skin to the point that he doesn't care when people make fun of him. He is the kind of person we wish we were in high school because he embraces being different so well that people almost can't make fun of him.  You know how some things are embarrassing simply because we get embarrassed about them, but someone who is so proud to be who they are and have fun with it doesn't seem to get made fun of because they are just cool? He holds only one secret. He is gay, but he keeps it a secret not for his sake, but for the sake of the person he loves.

Sam (Emma Watson) is Patrick's pretty half sister. Charlie can't help but fall in love with her, but of course if you remember high school drama, you know that seniors don't date freshmen.  She has a boyfriend already and Charlie is immediately in the friend zone.  We hear that she has had a series of bad relationships throughout high school and her boyfriend isn't the best guy in the world, he won't go to school dances with her and later we find out he's been cheating on her.

This story and the characters are all very genuine. There is lots of real emotion to these people.  They are all damaged in some way and learning to live with it and move on.  It reminds us that even kids grow up with very real, painful issues.

They repeatedly bring up the questions we asked as teenagers, "Why do good people pick the wrong people to be with? Why do people choose to be with people that treat them like nothing?"   We all want honest answers, and the honest answer is provided by Charlie's favorite teacher (played by Paul Rudd), "We accept the love we think we deserve."  But that prompts the more difficult questions of, "can we make them know they deserve more?" and "Why can't we save anybody."

They come to realize they can't choose where they came from, and what has happened to them in the past, but they can choose where they go from here.  They may not realize it, but they all save each other, especially in Charlie's case, who has more difficult issues than anyone really knows, and I won't spoil here.

I can identify with Charlie whose friends are about to graduate and leave him behind to experience the rest of high school by himself.  As the film continues, I begin to wonder if they realize that after 4 years, even those the same age will likely start to lose touch.

It is kinda crazy to realize that just a year or two can change so much when you are young. This film reminds us to enjoy the people, the places, the music and everything around us because you will never be there again. You are experiencing something that will soon be only a memory. You can try to go back again just to visit your old world, but it'll never be the same.  It's in our memories, and nothing quite compares to our memories. Even when living these moments they won't seem as cool until they have become memories.

Unlike most of us as we are living it, these people seem to know.  They know that in another year or two everything will be different: where they are, their group of friends, where they are headed, what they plan to do with the rest of their lives, and that these events will be nothing more than memories.  So they always try to take it all in and live in every single moment the way we all wish we had.

The three frequently ride in their truck through a tunnel blaring music while one person stands in the back with their arms stretched out. It makes them feel alive. As they exit the tunnel it feels like they are flying into a big open world.  This, along with the right music is like a drug for them. In an earlier scene we see Sam do this, and we know she feels alive, but it isn't until the end of the film that Charlie gets his chance to do the same. He has finally come alive.

The acting, editing, music, everything I can think of about this film is pitch perfect.  Few films capture what it's like to be young and in love and going through these growing pains so honestly.  As I try to catch up on all the best films of 2012 I had missed during 2012, I have to put this film toward the top of the list of essential must see films.

It may not carry the weight that it does in the context of the rest of the film but the final scene and the narration in it is quite beautiful and worth mentioning (or a second look).



"I don't know if I will have time to write any more letters because I might be too busy trying to participate. So, if this does end up being the last letter, I want you to know that I was in a bad place before I started high school, and you helped me. Even if you didn't know what I was talking about, or know someone who's gone through it. You made me not feel alone. Because I know there are people who say all these things don't happen. There are people who forget what it's like to be 16 when they turn 17. I know these will all be stories someday. And our pictures will all become old photographs and we'll all become somebody's mom or dad. But right now these moments are not stories. This is happening. I am here, and I am looking at her and she is so beautiful. I can see it. This one moment when you know you're not a sad story. You are alive. You stand up and see the lights on the buildings and everything that makes you wonder. And you're listening to that song on that drive with the people you love most in this world. And in this moment, I swear, we are infinite."