Remember high school? Or should I say - hellish nightmare? The Perks of Being a Wallflower follows Charlie - young teenager who is just starting high school. Charlie is shy and socially awkward - he doesn't have any real friends and he spends his time writing letters to mysterious person he calls his "friend", who likely doesn't exist. On the first day of school he is bullied and called names but he also catches the eye of his teacher - when his teacher, played by Paul Rudd, who I think is every one's dream teacher, asks who wrote the thing he just quoted no one answers. But he notices that Charlie wrote the correct answer in his notebook. He didn't raise his hand to reveal it, which is, by the way, what I've been doing all the time back in school.
Soon Charlie observes charismatic Patrick making fun of their teacher - Patrick makes fun of the teacher to make the freshmen relax and feel more comfortable, which unfortunately also leads to him being ridiculed by few of the students. During football game Charlie manages to find the courage to sit next to Patrick and starts talking with him, soon he also meets his step sister - Sam - they are both very friendly and sweet towards Charlie, who feels like he belongs somewhere for the first time in his life.
During the course of the movie we observe these three teenagers, mostly Charlie, and their ups and downs in high school - the parties, the love affairs, the heartbreaks. The film will feel very nostalgic to everyone who hated or enjoyed their time in high school - after all, we all share similar or even the same memories of this time - the proud parents taking our pictures before the prom, the time we saw some of our friends doing crazy things and the pain we felt when we saw someone we like with another person. Charlie feels all of that and since he is so shy he always feels like the observer in this vibrant, emotional world. And we observe it with him, feeling like we are right there.
The people we follow are all somewhat damaged, they call themselves misfits. Sam has a reputation, since when she was a freshman she was - there is not other way to call it - easy. Patrick is gay and he must hide his feelings for another schoolmate, as he is in the closet. And Charlie....well Charlie harbours a big, very damaging and shocking secret. We find out what it is by the time the movie is over, in incredibly shot breakdown sequence. And it's all very heartbreaking and powerful - to be quite honest, it felt like a punch right in the guts.
While I was watching the movie I felt sorry and envious towards Charlie, at the same time. On one hand he has this terrible thing in his past than haunts him and threatens to get out on the surface and destroy him. But on another he has very loving, supportive family. Though Charlie's parents played by Dylan McDermott and Kate Walsh don't have many lines, you really sense the warmth and care being constantly present in their home. You sense that these people love their children and that they are there for them, no matter what.
We also meet Charlie's sister Candace - she is a senior when he is starting high school and she dates a guy who loves her, but at one time Charlie sees him slapping his sister. Candace tells him nothing like that happened before, but she is clearly scared. That brings back memories of Charlie's aunt, who was also abused by her boyfriend. It is clear from Charlie's reaction that he is very sensitive to other people's pain and sometimes he can't bare it. He doesn't understand why people need to suffer.
Candace is played by Nina Dobrev, of The Vampire Dairies fame. She is extremely beautiful young actress and she really impressed me with her short performance here. There is this one moment when Charlie is in trouble and calls her up - her reaction to the phone call, genuine fear and love for her brother felt incredibly realistic. It's really a sign of genuine talent when an actress can create such memorable work just with short screen time.
All three main teens are played by exceptional young actors - Logan Lerman (Charlie), Ezra Miller (Patrick) and Emma Watson (Sam). Lerman is fantastic here, really becoming his troubled yet easy to relate to character and the rawness of his work is incredible at many times. Miller who scared the crap out of everyone in last year's terrific We Need to talk about Kevin is fantastic and often very amusing as charismatic Patrick. Though I wouldn't call him a scene stealer, it's amazing that in Kevin he played a teen you would never want to meet and now he plays a friend you would love to have, with equal believability and conviction.
The weakest link out of three is definitely Emma Watson. The girl, bless her heart, really tries but she felt like a miscast for me. She doesn't have a "bad girl" vibe in her body and it was really hard for me to buy the fact that she was supposed to be all slutty and in drunken haze during her adventurous past. It really doesn't help that Watson appears to be so shy - she apparently refuses to watch her kissing scenes and Rocky Horror Picture Show sequences from the movie. Ah, honey, that's not the way to go.
One of the things that really helped with building the connections between the characters and the audience and the characters is the fact that the film is not set in the present. Though not explicitly shown on screen or mentioned, the film is set
during the 1991-92 school year. Music,
technology and clothing styles all reference this as well. There is no facebook, the teenagers aren't glued to their computers all the time, chatting, playing video games or surfing the web. There is no texting, ipads or whatever technological nonsense there is out there. Back then people actually talked face to face, listened to cassettes and met in person. Now it's all text messaging, freaking itunes and quiet noise when you get a message on facebook.
I'm not saying people don't talk face to face anymore but from my experience - I talk to my friends more while typing messages on my computer or sending text messages. We live so fast in such busy world and the technology is right there for us to use it. But I can't help but feel, that 20 years ago the people who were friends in high school were generally closer to each other than they are in modern times. A smile, a hug or a kind word spoken in some one's familiar voice can't really be replaced by emoticon, can it?
The atmosphere feels really warm and nostalgic because of all of that and it's all aided by the wonderful soundtrack. Both the original score and the great selection of songs from such legends like David Bowie, The Smiths, Sonic Youth and New Order are just brilliant and they perfectly illustrate the characters' emotional states and situations. Many scenes - two tunnel scenes in particular - are just unforgettable and the film's ending is absolutely lovely.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower also has a whole bunch or wonderful, meaningful and memorable lines - the film is narrated by Charlie and his narration in the film's ending has some of the most powerful lines said in movies in 2012. Everything he says is so truthful and even when his character makes some stupid choices - like for example the way he handles breaking up with his girlfriend - we still like him, because he is a smart kid, who is just a little bit lost and has a heavy heart.
The film was adapted from the book by the same title by Stephen Chbosky. I think it's really terrific that he himself wrote the script and directed the film - I don't think anyone but the author of the book, who has a profound connection to the characters he created, can translate the book on screen better. It's a lovely movie, one that is destined to give courage and inspiration to many young people out there.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
(2012, 102 min)
Plot: Based on the novel written by Stephen Chbosky, the film follows Charlie, naive outsider, coping with first love and his own mental illness while struggling to find a group of people with whom he belongs. The introvert freshman is taken under the wings of two seniors, Sam and Patrick, who welcome him to the real world.
Stephen Chbosky (novel), Stephen Chbosky (screenplay)
Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller