Watched Aug 30, 2012
Eric Forthun’s review:
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of the year’s best films for a variety of reasons, but its intense emotional pull and immediate connection with my life was uncanny. I saw so much of my high school life, the friendships I made, the views I had on certain elements of it all that just wrecked me emotionally. The performances here are brilliant, first and foremost, not just because they encapsulate what these characters need to say about their lives, but because they elicit compassion and genuine human understanding for what they’re going through. The claim that characters feel like real people happens so often, but it rings true here: Lerman is easily one of the best of the year I’ve seen, with so many remarkable moments that not only showcase his acting talents, but the film’s force. It’s a movie that appeals to my age group (young college students or, to a greater extent, kids just getting into/leaving high school), obviously, so maybe my review is biased, but at the same time, is relating to a story really a bad thing? I found so much about the movie flawless and wondrous to watch, often seeing emotions within my life beautifully rendered on screen in ways I never imagined. The film’s a triumph, and something I certainly didn’t expect to affect me this much.
Charlie (Logan Lerman) is lonely, entering high school with ultimately no friends. He lost his best friend, actually, to suicide over a year ago, writing letters to him (presumably) because he doesn’t have anyone else in his life. He’s mocked at school, often degraded for simply being lonely; his dad says to just smile and know that everything will be alright in the end, yet Charlie doesn’t smile. He doesn’t let on the fact that he’s smart, that he’s honest, that he’s a good kid, and his teacher, Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd) sees that. Maybe he even relates a bit. He also might be the only friend Charlie makes on his first day, yet they bond over the fact that each of them love literature. Charlie looks at old friends, sees the lack of interest in them, and is even rejected by his sister, Candace (Nina Dobrev), although hers isn’t out of malice but social pride. Charlie stumbles upon Patrick (Ezra Miller) in his woodshop class, with Patrick being a senior and trying to make everyone feel better and more at home. They briefly bond at a football game, although nothing really happens until Sam (Emma Watson) comes along and joins them. She’s Patrick’s stepsister.
They go out together, begin to party, and one night Charlie reveals (on a pot brownie-infused trip, no less) that he has no friends, and Sam and Patrick don’t really know how to handle the situation. They befriend him, though, see the love and compassion he has for those around him, and see him as the person he really is. It’s funny that he can’t really express himself the way he wants to, yet he writes; people tell him he should write, but he doesn’t know what about or when to even do it. I’m glad writing is put on the back burner in the film; too many movies deal with that aspect, and this year’s great Ruby Sparks already handled writing in a way no other film could really do. The way his writing works, though, is addressing a random friend through letters that keep him grounded. He’s gone “bad” before, as he says himself, yet we don’t know what that entails. Something bad happened to his Aunt Helen (Melanie Lynskey), which we find out is much deeper than was at first apparent, and the complexities unravel between their relationships that intertwine rather effortlessly.
I found the experience wholly connected and surprisingly sincere. The trailers let on a film that was much different than the experience; granted, I was more at ease with the trailer lately than when I first saw it, but the true emotional connection I felt upon watching was unrivaled when it comes to any film this year. High school is a time that may be defined by clichés in most books/films, and for the most part there’s nothing wrong with them since most are true. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that when handled correctly and honestly, they don’t feel clichéd. They feel wholly focused and understanding of the constant pressure teenagers face. Teenage angst is mocked often, and sometimes rightfully so, but it’s also one of the most difficult things any person will ever face in their life. It’s a time when we’re so unsure of our purpose, of where we’ll go, that we just don’t know what to do and occasionally act reckless and emotionally unhinged. The movie, and Charlie as the protagonist, works through those emotions wonderfully and seems to get the idea of what being a teenager is.
Sure, it related to me and that’s fine and all, but the pull for others will be strong, too. They might even find most of what I found appealing effective, and for that I would applaud you. Yet at the same time what works so well is the focused universality of it all, by which I mean that almost any age group can relate to these situations. They’ve faced these times of turmoil, the ebbs and flows of teenage love and where it will take us life, and maybe they have a point when they say they feel infinite in these times; the times ahead, though, come along as much more important without maybe feeling so. Watson’s character is one of great strength and earnest emotion, something I wouldn’t expect either, but her performance is a shining light in the film. There’s tenderness through every frame she inhabits, partly because her character is one who weaves through her complexities rather well. I’m still stunned emotionally by how well-developed her character becomes over time, simply defined at first by the fact that she falls in love with the wrong people, but then slowly becoming her own individual in the grand scheme of this complex film. She loves the wrong people, which is obvious, yet she can’t see what’s obviously right in front of her. That’s a clichéd idea if I’ve ever heard one, but at the same time it’s never rung true like it does here.
Lerman does the same. He feels like a character, and actor, who deserves pity at first, but he’s cute and enjoyable to watch because he’s simply relatable. If broken down, he’s a complex individual who doesn’t want to share his emotions with people because they won’t accept him. There’s a brief moment when his father and him exchange something and he addresses him as, “sir”, and the dad accepts it. His parents are compassionate, as are most people around him, but maybe he doesn’t understand what he really needs. “We accept the love we think we deserve”, Mr. Anderson says rather wisely to Charlie as he’s asking about his sister. Little do we know it pertains to Sam’s situation as well, her lack of love in her relationship that she so desperately wants. Sam and Charlie both tell one another they love each other, and they even kiss on saying that Charlie’s first kiss should be with someone who he legitimately loves. The look on his face reads a bit differently than hers at the time, and Lerman sells it more so than any other actor I could imagine. He has another key scene where his face slightly twitches when talking and you can see the pain on his face; he doesn’t have a whole lot of friends, and almost the effort of trying to make one is straining him.
One of the movie’s finest scenes could’ve been the worst. Patrick is gay, which is often addressed but never handled in the manner you’d think. Him and Charlie grow close, often being friends that would, in another film, go down a path of confusion and possibly homoerotic material. Yet what this film does is have them play a game of urban legends, sharing stories only for Patrick to open up about his boyfriend at school who had the shit beat out of him. The emotional strain it’s put on Patrick is devastating, as Miller so well demonstrates, and in a moment of emotional despair he kisses Charlie. Not out of passion, or out of confusion, but out of desperation. He claims it’s because he needs someone to love him, and maybe it acts in the same way as Sam and Charlie’s kiss. Charlie doesn’t take it the wrong way, and Patrick tenderly hugs him after looking in his eyes. Any other person would shun him away, push him aside, but Charlie understands him and sees what makes him who he is. He doesn’t reject it; he accepts him. It’s a brilliant scene, one of the best I’ve seen this year because it furthers these characters more than films do in their entirety.
I often cite movies as playing poetically, but I never once thought about the film’s pacing or how much longer the movie would go. I let it play its tune and see where it took me, and emotionally it tore me apart more than any other film this year. It’s an embodiment of my state of mind for so much of high school, and even present day, and for that reason I can’t discredit the film in almost any way. I found it rather flawless, actually, almost impeccable, but that might be my blinders going up as I can’t fully assess the movie in the way I hoped. Actually, I take that back: the movie affected me emotionally, engulfed me in its story, and played over me like a book would if I was as engrossed with it as any. It’s a remarkably powerful film, with three key performances: Lerman’s of great texture and restraint, Watson’s of innocence and delicacy, and Miller’s (which I barely mentioned, even though I should’ve, for it’s terrific) is one of surprising emotional heft and power. Everything about the film carries a tenderness, an odd poetic beauty that I connected with so much. In that regard, the film’s effective, brilliant, and a joy to watch. It’s also one of the year’s finest.