The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

wallflowerWritten & Directed by: Stephen Chbosky

Dear Logan Lerman,

I am sorry I misjudged you based on your part in the miserably disappointing adaptation of The Lightning Thief.  You can’t be blamed for the fact that filmmakers butchered one of my son’s and my favorite read-alouds, and usually ones acting ability can only shine in proportion to the quality of the role, script, and direction.

Apparently you had tremendous hidden talent that is now … well … no longer hidden. You’re an exceptionally gifted young actor. I look forward to seeing your career blossom.

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This screen adaptation of Stephen Chbosky’s well-loved epistolary novel looks at Charlie (Logan Lerman), a gifted high school freshman and aspiring writer struggling against painful memories and pressure from peers to be mediocre. He connects with resident smart-ass Patrick (Ezra Miller — nice to see him without a crossbow) and Patrick’s beautiful stepsister, Sam (Emma Watson), seniors who help him navigate the social scene. Paradoxically, he becomes the rock upon whom they rely during upheavals in their lives.

Based on reviews of this novel and film, I’d expected to like this movie. After all, “coming of age” stories have broad appeal. I suspect it’s because we’re all “coming of age,” in one way or another, throughout our lives. At what point do we feel we’ve well and truly “grown up?” 🙂 But The Perks of Being a Wallflower still surprised me; I didn’t expect to find it so moving.

I graduated during the Reagan era, so I don’t know whether this portrayal of American high school life in the ’90s is realistic. However, I felt the way it captured the experience of adolescence was dead-on. The sense of feeling trapped, with years to wait before your life seems truly your own. The intensity of youthful friendships and the wonderful agony of falling in love for the first time. The fear, anger, and loneliness, the intense yearning, and the moments of sheer, reckless, intrepid joy.  

The film manages to sidestep being too “cool” or trite, which seems a clear and present danger in a movie about a guy coming of age with his quirky friends. 🙂 Excellent writing, strong direction, and outstanding performances by the three young leads make this movie engrossing, moving, and real. (I actually cried during the whole Patrick/Brad thing. Damn. 😦 )

The Perks of Being a Wallflower looks at the fact that, sadly, many — if not most — people are already painfully damaged by the time they “come of age.” By the time they become teenagers, they’ve learned to hide their vulnerabilities behind masks, though those masks are often heartbreakingly transparent. As adolescents, they have the task of discovering what they’re passionate about — whether it be music, literature, film, or something else — and using that, along with the fragile, tangled web of their friendships and family bonds, to help them survive and flourish.

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