Friday, August 9, 2013

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Directed by Stephen Chbosky.
2012. Rated PG-13, 2012.
Mae Whitman
Nina Dobrev
Johnny Simmon
Kate Walsh
Nicholas Braun

Like most kids, Charlie (Lerman) is nervous about starting high school. He might actually be more afraid than most. After all, he couldn’t make any friends in middle school. He survives the first day, invisibly as ever. His only new friend is Mr. Anderson (Rudd), his English teacher who lets him borrow books whenever he likes. Things continue along that path until our hero accidentally finds himself hanging out with The Wallflowers, a tight-knit group of kids that certainly are not part of the in-crowd. He becomes bestest buds with Patrick (Miller), who happens to be carrying on a secret relationship with the school’s most popular athlete, and instantly develops a crush on Patrick’s sister Sam (Watson). Fun with drugs and alcohol, the pursuit of love, and other issues ensue.

In the lead role, Lerman gives us a kid that believably grows in confidence as he becomes comfortable in his own skin. However, he’s never fully comfortable and what confidence he has is fragile, at best. Lerman ably conveys this, makes his character easy to empathize with. He’s someone we want to see breaking out of his shell even though that means indulging in behavior that is less than exemplary.

The cast surrounding our hero is just as good. Each brings their own brand of pain to the screen, continuously proving themselves to be perfect complements to our hero. They’re tortured souls that shelter each other. Their fierce individualism is the facade through which they operate as a group. Whatever they can’t combat with smartassness is doused with the stuff pulled from their parents’ liquor cabinets and viewed hazily through constantly refilling glasses and laughter.

Even within such an idyllic dynamic, problems between them arise. Here, more than anywhere else, us older viewers are thrust back into thedays when there was turbulence amongst our own circle of friends. Younger viewers may be going through this now. We feel bad for Charlie, especially considering the tremendous difficulties this causes for him. As his entire situation crystallizes, our heart breaks for him. The movie does a great job of pacing our awareness, letting us learn a little at a time, just enough to keep us on our toes. The two halves of our protagonist’s life work in tandem to maintain a shroud of mystery around him until he bursts, throwing open the cloak we’ve only been getting peeks beneath.

On the minus side, I’m not sure what to make of Charlie’s parents. They seem to be nice caring people, but a clueless lot even when the obvious punches them in the face. I’m not talking about the big reveal late in the movie, but of the things we see all along – the drinking and the drugs. Even after their son lands in the hospital they just shrug their shoulders at the whole thing even though they know that he’s always been troubled. Now that I think about it, that big reveal only warrants a slightly more vehement reaction. Maybe it’s just the dad in me speaking, but even after our hero’s news is out in the open, they still aren’t as present as they should be.

Regardless of how Charlie is parented. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an enthralling movie. It draws us into this young man’s life and lets us love it or loathe it as he does. Best of all, we realize that he is a work in progress. His problems aren’t solved in time for the closing credits. He has a lifetime of work ahead of him. This makes him much more real than most guys that save the day and get the girl.

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