The perks of being a wallflower – 2012
Writer and Director Stephen Chbosky
Starring Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Mae Whitman, Nona Dobrev, Johnny Simmons, Kate Walsh, Dylan McDermott, Melanie Lynskey, Zane Holtz, Paul Rudd, Joan Cusack, Tom Savini
Everyone’s journey begin’s with a single step, even if that step is taken within a daze. For Charlie Kelmeckis (Lerman), the first walk through the halls of the biggest period of his life are rife with feelings of isolation and remorse. This is something I can relate to. I spent my freshman year wondering what a fresh start at another high school might do for me. Soon enough, Charlie finds a friend in the rebellious and flamboyant Patrick (Miller). Within minutes, he is introduced to Patrick’s step-sister, Sam (Watson). Just like that, the daze is lifted, just a bit, and his course is set, as far as he can see.
The thing about high school, for a lot of people: this is the most open you will be in your life. New experiences collide freely with your limited past and create a fertile ground for the possibility of who you just might become. Charlie is quite literally an open, unwritten book. He devours every word presented to him by his engaging advanced literature teacher, Mr. Anderson (Rudd). Indeed, he considers him the first friend he acquired in High School. As the words and experiences come pouring in, he begins to learn about his new friends, and, to a lesser extent, their friends. Sam and Patrick, as seniors, are a bit further down this road than is Charlie, but they do not chastise his inexperience. They bring him into the fold, like a friend they are proud to have.
In this way, The perks of being a wallflower resonates. Having friends across borders is an important experience, and one can see that it has a profound affect on Charlie. He is reeling, we think, from the suicide of his best friend the previous May. This is something that is all too familiar to many kids of high school age. For Charlie, though, there is something more. Lerman, impressive in many of his previous ventures, including 3:10 to Yuma, Percy Jackson… and The Three Musketeers, has the appearance of profound innocence. He captures the feeling of sadness and amazement at once…as well as the trance of one who has prepared to move on from a traumatic event. It is a difficult feeling to capture, and he nailed it.
As Patrick, Miller is almost as successful. His comfort with who he is feels natural enough, and there is a certain authenticity to his ability to withstand the nickname “Nothing” with aplomb. His friendship with Charlie feels real, too, for the most part. Growing up with a few persons of his caliber, it takes performance like Millers for one to have an appreciation for the courage that it took to be unique, or, at the very least, comfortable with yourself.
Watson’s performance as Sam is a mixed bag. In a way, she is the perfect person to play the role, in that many people who grew up watching the Harry Potter films developed an unrequited crush upon who she was to them. In the same way, Charlie has an idealized version of Sam. She is way above him, and Watson’s ethereal grace does nothing to diminish this. That she is kind does not hurt, either.
The problem with Miller and Watson’s roles is not as much in their performance, but, rather, the script. At some points, they are clear thinking, kind-hearted and forward thinking. Within a couple of frames, however, Chbosky has them imbibing with spirits and drugs of one sort or another, with no clear consequences. This is a lie that threatens to derail all the things going right with the film, which involves an exploration of the darkness that one can envelop one in what can be the brightest time of their lives.
Many of the experiences that happen in this film have happened in the lives of kids in America, myself included. Mae Whitman’s girlfriend in the way, in particular, rings true. Factoring in hallucinogens tends to quickly exacerbate the highs and the lows. Having not read the book, one cannot speak with authority why this is omitted. They sure spent enough useless time at The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Even I wasted one evening going through one of those horrid live performances. My then girlfriend was innocent enough to admit she’d never seen it before, much to our dismay. But like everything in life, one must just endure.
If they had cut at least 3/4 of the Rocky Horror fluff out, they could have given the substance use the gravity it deserved. That Chbosky ignores this relationship is to the detriment of the message of the film, but it does not take away from the power of the last half-hour. In that time, we see many changes, and things go from bad, to better, and good to worse. What happens will be left for you to explore. I exploded in tears at one point, and confused the hell out of myself, as well everyone near me. The way things had gone earlier, I really could not have expected it. Looking back, though, everything makes sense, for the most part. Feeling a profound connection to Charlie, I realized he is made of stuff that we all contain. We really shouldn’t contain it, though, through blocked memories, drugs, alcohol or other walls.
(**** out of *****)