Monday, February 4, 2013

Wallflowers Earn All The Perks In Film

Despite occasionally overzealous polish and missing any deep conflict beyond the everyday challenges of being an adolescent, Stephen Chbosky works hard to capture the mysticism that made his novel a modern classic. Where he succeeds is in creating an earnest indie with enough lightly offbeat moments that almost anyone can relate, regardless of who they might be or when they survived high school.

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower (Perks) is a triumph in understanding the importance of acceptance and the pitfalls of authenticity during the longest four years of anyone's life. Charlie (Logan Lerman) makes for the perfectly distant outcast, especially because there is something slightly offbeat about his mental chemistry.

Charlie eases into being the canvas for a cast of young and offbeat characters. 

Charlie is a 15-year-old boy who is a naive but endearing outsider, coping with a mental illness and the death of several people close to him. The outcast newcomer is taken under the wings of two smart and quirky high school seniors, Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller), who help lure him away from a fictitious friend he writes letters to and into the real world with all of its charms and challenges.

All of the actors in the film fully commit to their various roles and relationships, especially the leading three. Lerman bravely plays Charlie by balancing his charming desire and patience to belong with a quiet and mildly disturbing belief that he will never belong. Watson is purposeful and poised, always grounded despite becoming the object of a crush. And then there is Miller.

By almost every measure, Miller delivers a movie-stealing performance as a self-assured and exuberant gay high school student. Although Miller recently went public about his own sexuality, the weight of his emerging talent as an actor is easily understood by seeing him in the contrasting role We Need To Talk About Kevin. While Charlie is the protagonist, Patrick can easily be considered the hero.

The three of them initially connect at a high school game that Charlie attends on his own. Recognizing Charlie from a class they have together, Patrick invites him to join them and takes him to a cafe afterward. At another school event, the step-sibling duo invite Charlie to dance with them and take him to a party, introducing them to their self-described group of misfit toys (slightly reminiscent of theater geeks). On the individual measure, they represent the increasingly diverse modern stereotypes that have emerged since films like The Breakfast Club.

The film is thoroughly enjoyable despite never allowing major conflicts to overshadow its even-paced, feel-good charm. While often overlooked, it waters down what would otherwise be climactic moments as large as those seen in films like Almost Famous. Instead, Chbosky makes it all easy, despite the bumps and bruises, with no real explanation other than all of it is slightly tainted by Charlie's perspective.

A bit about author, screenwriter and director Stephen Chbosky. 

Chbosky was born in 1970 and raised in a Pittsburgh suburb. The location was not at all that different from the setting of his debut novel, but he graduated from high school two to three years earlier. The book itself can be considered accidental in that Chbosky was working on a different book when he wrote the line that would become the debut's title.

As a semi-autobiographical book, it became immediately popular for dealing with teen sexuality and drug use and was eventually banned in several schools. It has twice made the American Library Association's 10 most frequently challenged books list.

Chbosky has had a somewhat sporadic but successful career since his first independent film, Four Corners Of Nowhere, in 1995. Since, he has written and produced several projects, most notably: the television series Jericho and the screenplay Rent.

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower Peaks At 7.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Although The Perks Of Being A Wallflower might be more structurally sanitized than the novel of the same name, Chbosky clearly brings real passion to this independent project. In doing so, he delivers a certain timeless quality to the film while bringing out the very best from a young cast. Kudos to Waston too. She picked the right post-Potter part.

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower can be downloaded from iTunes. The novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, is available from Amazon. Although digitally available, the DVD and Blu-ray release is slated for Feb. 12. Film preorders are available from Barnes & Noble. Expect the film to find a much larger viewership than it ever did during its limited run last fall.
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