The Perks of Being a Wallflower
So I think I really have become spoiled by the Digital 2D format. Almost every major Hollywood film (and a few Hong Kong and even local ones) are released in this format, and I pretty much exclusively watch Hollywood movies in Digital 2D now. Costs me an extra RM2-3 per ticket, but I reckon it's worth it. Unfortunately, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is not screened here in this format, and I wonder if the fact that it's also being released under the GSC International Screens label has something to do with it. I mention this because the quality of the prints GSC is screening isn't very good at all. There are scratches, as well as infrequent jump cuts that I'm assuming are caused by a not-very-good projectionist switching from one reel to the next on the projector. Which would bring back nostalgic memories of watching movies in good ol' analog, were I the slightest bit nostalgic about crappy obsolete technology.
All that being said, you should still absolutely watch it. In cinemas even. Because it's good.
Charlie (Logan Lerman) is facing the normal everyday indignities of a teenage boy starting high school: nervousness, awkwardness, social introversion, and lack of any friends. Only his English teacher Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd) shows him kindness; and though his family - his mom and dad (Kate Walsh and Dylan McDermott) and older sister Candace (Nina Dobrev) - are warm and loving enough, they can't understand what he's going through. But when he meets seniors Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller), he finally finds a place to belong amongst their quirky, insular clique. Patrick is gay and in a secret relationship with closeted football player Brad (Johnny Simmons); Charlie gets a girlfriend in emo goth girl Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman), although it is the luminous Sam whom he is head over heels in love with. But through the entire school year, Charlie hides deep-seated emotional problems - possibly related to his beloved Aunt Helen (Melanie Lynskey) - that threaten to resurface and wreck his life once again.
This film is an adaptation of Stephen Chbosky's 1999 novel of the same name, a bestseller among young teens at that time. And yes, Chbosky also wrote and directed the film; he is an accomplished writer and producer, having co-created the TV series Jericho. I can see why the novel was popular. It's about a lonely and awkward social outcast teenager who falls in amongst a group of equally socially outcast teens, gains self-esteem through their acceptance of who he is, and even finds love. Which can be a far too precious and Mary Sue-ish kind of story, appealing to the most self-absorbed instincts among teenagers (and the teenager in all of us). But this one is good. And what makes it good is a great deal of humour, sensitivity and warmth in the story and characters, as well as a willingness to delve into some pretty dark territory.
But our protagonist is surrounded by good people. He loves all his family members and they him; his teacher encourages his interest in writing by lending him books; and Sam and Patrick extend him their kindness and friendship the minute they learn of his past trauma - that his best friend in junior high committed suicide. Much of the first half is taken up by Charlie becoming part of their circle, experiencing their eclectic tastes in music, their participation in live performances of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and their casual drug use. But as nice as they are to him, they still have their own troubles to deal with, particularly Patrick and Sam - the latter whom is dating a college student, thus thwarting his romantic interest in her. In fact, it's Charlie who ends up doing something stupid and cruel when Mary Elizabeth somehow becomes his girlfriend.
Because Charlie isn't just a normal awkward teenager - and what drives the story, for the most part, is the question of exactly what ails him. Aside from his friend committing suicide, he also lost his Aunt Helen to a car crash when he was little - but none of these seem to explain his stint in a psychiatric hospital before he started high school, or the "episodes" that Charlie tantalizingly mentions, in the letters he writes to an imaginary friend that serves as the film's ongoing narrative voiceover. It isn't till near the end, when he suffers a final emotional breakdown, that the truth is revealed, in a terrifically gripping scene. The film almost has the structure of a mystery in that sense, with the suspenseful buildup and cathartic revelation of that genre.
As Emma Watson's first film that isn't part of the Harry Potter series, she acquits herself well. Her role isn't much of a challenge; she just needs to be luminously beautiful, which, well, she is. I'm a lot more impressed with Logan Lerman, whom I thought was terrible in two movies, but who was really good here. Where he was wooden and uncharismatic in popcorn fare, here he successfully plays a confused young man who simply doesn't know how to convey emotion; we're rooting for Charlie all the way, and we dearly want him to snap out of his depression and get the girl. And Ezra Miller is a lot of fun, a comic relief character whose flamboyant personality masks a deeper pain.
It's not a perfect film, to be honest. It occasionally lapses into cliché (do high school seniors really perform random acts of bullying on freshmen for no reason whatsoever?) and contrivances (when your friends have ostracised you after you did something awful, it's pretty convenient to suddenly have the opportunity to come heroically charging to their rescue). But neither of these things define it; what does is the sincerity and sensitivity it employs in telling a very familiar coming-of-age story. For some young viewers in those terribly confusing teenage years, this film may very well be a life-changer. As I bet the novel already was a generation ago.
NEXT REVIEW: Life of Pi
Expectations: well, it looks really pretty