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Perks of Being a Wallflower, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Kids Suffer The Darndest Ennui. . ."
2 stars

The early reviews for the new teen-oriented drama "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" have lavished the film with praise and compared it favorably to the output of John Hughes, the man who essentially reinvented the entire genre with his seminal works from the Eighties. That may be true and if you loved those films, there is an excellent chance that you may find this one to be as extraordinary as some of its proponents are claiming it to be. However, what if you are the kind of person who never responded to the Hughes vehicles in the first place? What if you felt that "The Breakfast Club" merely replaced one set of cliches with another? What if you think that Ferris Bueller's day should have ended with him being lowered head-first into an industrial-sized meat grinder by Abe Froman himself. What if you firmly believe that Hughes deserves to burn in cinematic Hell forever for the crime of having Andie going off with Blaine instead of Ducky at the end of "Pretty in Pink." What if you are one of the few who actually saw "Reach the Rock"? In that case, there is an excellent chance that you will regard it in much the same way that I did--as a crock of shit. Oh, it is a well-acted crock of shit that contains a few nice moments here and there but a crock of shit nevertheless.

Set in a suburb of Pittsburgh circa 1991, the film is centered on Charlie (Logan Lerman), a painfully shy and withdrawn who, following a difficult year that included the suicide of his closest friend and his own lengthy hospitalization for emotional problems, is about to begin his freshman year of high school and is literally just hoping to survive the experience. Before long, however, he is taken under the wing of a pair of charismatic outsider step-siblings--the flamboyant Patrick (Ezra Miller) and the pixie-like Sam (Emma Watson)--and swept into their hipster clique and they allow him to finally blossom for the first time. Over the course of the school year, Charlie goes through all the usual trials and tribulations of adolescence--Charlie falls in love with Sam, who is dating an older jerk who mistreats her, while a more aggressive girl in their group (Mae Whitman) claims him for herself--but despite the rough spots, it seems as though he will make it through all right. The problem at the end of the year, though, is that while he still has three more years to go, all of his friends are taking off for greener pastures and their is the very real danger that their collective departure will cause his inner turmoil to once again drive him to the brink of despair.

Based on the acclaimed 1999 young-adult novel by Stephen Chbosky , who also wrote and directed the film version, "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" clearly wants to assume the mantle of the next great teen film. The trouble is that it doesn't transcend the genre as much as it does reaffirm all the crap we learn in other high school movie and by the end, it is a wonder we can even think at all. Outside of the time period, there is precious little on display that hasn't been seen before in any number of other movies of its ilk. The story plods through the usual rites of passage without offering viewers any new insights or ideas about the trials of adolescence. Perhaps recognizing that Charlie's central drama wasn't that interesting, Chbosky throws in a number of subplots involving his older sister (Nina Dobrev) and the weirdo boyfriend that hits her, a dearly beloved and deceased aunt (Melanie Lynskey) with her own set of secret, the closeted school jock who is secretly hooking up with Patrick and a supportive English teacher (Paul Rudd) who seems to exist only to pass on a dog-eared copy of "The Catcher in the Rye." (There will be a day when that book is regarded as the overrated mess that it is but I suspect that day will not come in my lifetime) and all they wind up doing is cluttering up the narrative, especially the stuff involving the aunt. The characters are also not very interesting either--Charlie himself is kind of a bore, a rebel without any oomph, while everybody else is afforded one personality trait and is forced to play off of that for the entire running time--and they are so generic throughout that I was less concerned with analyzing their collective angst than I was in trying to remember their names.

The biggest problem with "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" is its most basic one--I did not believe any of it for a second. Granted, believability is not necessarily a quality that is required in a movie for it to be considered a success but when the film at hand is clearly meant to evoke memories in the minds of viewers of their own teenage experiences. The trouble here is that Chbosky is clearly more interested in making a movie than in inspiring such thoughts and since he isn't a skilled enough filmmaker to pull this off, all that we are left with are a bunch of scenes and characters that simply do not feel plausible and the whole film suffers as a result. In the most egregious example of this, Charlie, Sam and Patrick are speeding through a tunnel when a song that none of them have heard before suddenly comes on the radio and they find themselves blissing out to it as they glide through the night.

This is meant to be a transformative scene and in the right hands and with the right ingredients, it might have been the equivalent of John Cusack blasting "In Your Eyes" in the infinitely better "Say Anything," The only trouble is that, having already established these characters as serious music people who are deep into British artists like The Smiths and anthems from the Seventies, the mysterious tune that none of them have ever heard before despite their vast array of musical knowledge is none other than David Bowie's "Heroes." Yes, it is a wonderful song and yes, the effect is glorious but there is no way that kids this heavily into the music they allegedly listen to could have plausibly never heard one of Bowie's most famous compositions before--if you are celebrating deep album cuts from The Smiths, you have heard "Heroes" before. By going for the grandiose effect at the expense of the reality he is trying to create, Chbosky completely subverts his own efforts and after that, hardly anything else he has to offer comes close to ringing true.

The best thing about "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" are the performances by Ezra Miller and Emma Watson as the step-brother/sister duo who help our hero come out of his shell. For Watson, this marks her first major performance since wrapping up the "Harry Potter" movies and and she clearly demonstrates that her post-Hogwarts career should be worth paying attention to--she is charming, charismatic and if you didn't know who she was going in, you would not peg her for a moment as a Brit pretending to be an American. As for Miller, who you last saw in the incredibly grim "We Need to Talk About Kevin," he gets to play another alienated teen but does so with a spirt that is infectious even when the material he is working with feels like a hand-me-down from some CW series that didn't make it past the initial 13-episode order. Unfortunately, little else about it works and while it may have its heart in the right place, that doesn't take away from the fact that despite trying in vain to be the next "16 Candles," the best thing that can be said about "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" is that it is somewhat better than "New Port South."

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=23804&reviewer=389
originally posted: 09/27/12 21:12:02
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

12/27/12 Langano All round good film. 4 stars
11/23/12 Lymaris Fantastic film 5 stars
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  21-Sep-2012 (PG-13)
  DVD: 12-Feb-2013


  DVD: 12-Feb-2013

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