Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

There's an affable and hopeful nostalgia to The Perks of Being a Wallflower, a tenderly conceived, nicely acted teen misfit dramedy based on the best selling novel, that through stretches almost gets away with its strands of unevenness.  Like the central character Charlie, admirably played by Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson & the Olympians), the film isn't quite sure of itself at times, but it's likable, and something that feels should be rooted for despite it all.  There's always been a cinematic embrace to the underdog, the nerd, the wallflower of sorts-- one can make of it what one would like, perhaps the inner thoughts of a screenwriter's will.  But from the time when James Dean more or less introduced teen angst to cinemas in the 1950s with Rebel Without a Cause, it's a cinematic archetype, that while has formed into many facets, carries a certain truth to it.  In high school, everything does indeed feel more, and everything for the first time carries that much more weight to it, and while The Perks of Being Wallflower at times feels like a Juno-ized cross between a CW soap and an after school special, their are tiny and larger moments that pop with that aching feeling of something real, something genuine, and something sad.  Stephen Chbosky wrote the novel and wrote and directed the film, and does affectionate justice to his personalized tale, but leaves enough back that one imagines that a great film was possibly in reach.

Charlie is a high school freshman, recently returning from a prolonged hospitalization, he's shy, nervous, inquisitive, and like a lot of high school students, trying to fit into a world that he is smart enough to realize isn't very likely.  Almost by accident he meets a group of older misfits that turn his fate around.  Patrick (a nearly ethereal Ezra Miller) is a outgoing gay student with a snappy wit and sass mouth that would feel completely inorganic in another actors world, nearly takes Charlie under his wing, with the help of fellow senior (and half sister) Sam (Emma Watson), a bright pixie with anxiety that nearly matches (and clearly excites) Charlie.  The film chronicles the three as a genuine friendship blooms between the three, along with a secondary group of fellow underdogs.  One of the more original components to The Perks of Being a Wallflower is that it eschews the typical high school sexual nonsense of kids trying to find a mate (or someone to take their virginity away) and instead focuses on the foundations of friendship instead.  Charlie, a guy who we later learn is under a great deal of external anxiety due to a youthful trauma, seeks acceptance over sex, and that's something that makes the matter a bit more palatable, and slightly refreshing.   There is a flirtation and budding something between Charlie and Sam, and a small, ill-fated relationship that develops between Charlie and Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman), a fellow outsider, but the scenes that pop are the joyous ones of inclusion where Charlie breaks his wallflower role and, to his relief, feels "normal."

Chbosky does a nice job in grounding the film tonally in that the comedy never feels forced, and the drama never feels over the top, even in moments where it easily could.  For instance, a subplot involving Patrick's closeted boyfriend is nicely handled without any melodramatic snips or didactic sermonizing.  It's the pacing and flow that feel a bit less out of reach, for as the school years goes on, there's too often a nearly whatever approach to Charlie's search and a certain vague-ness not just to his condition, but to him.  Lerman does a nice job of keeping Charlie earthbound, but there's a certain disconnect to moments that should soar that feel more of a fault of direction than performance.  For instance, when the film makes a stern about face in the last stretch, there's a certain arbitrary-ness to it, even though it's hard not to root for the kid.  There's on-going feeling throughout The Perks of Being a Wallflower of, wow, I really want to embrace this film, I really want to adore it, but too much murk and unnecessary dirt get in the way of the parts, moments and sequences that spark.  There's a nicely, if untruthful, sequence of driving with David Bowie blaring that speaks emotionally if not for silly dialogue of the characters unaware of Bowie.  That would be fine except that the self-referential script, and attention to music to the film and the characters makes it impossible to believe that not one of these smart-alec kids knows of Bowie.  It may be a small thing, a petty thing, but it's enough to take you out of the film, and there's enough of that that start to wilt the perks of this special Wallflower.  B-

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...