Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER             B+             
USA  (103 mi)  2012  d:  Stephen Chbosky 

I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing will drive them away
We can beat them, just for one day
We can be Heroes, just for one day

And you, you can be mean
And I, I'll drink all the time
'Cause we're lovers, and that is a fact
Yes we're lovers, and that is that

Though nothing, will keep us together
We could steal time,
just for one day
We can be Heroes, for ever and ever
What d'you say?

I, I wish you could swim
Like the dolphins, like dolphins can swim
Though nothing,
nothing will keep us together
We can beat them, for ever and ever
Oh we can be Heroes,
just for one day
I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing will drive them away
We can be Heroes, just for one day
We can be us, just for one day

I, I can remember (I remember)
Standing, by the wall (by the wall)
And the guns shot above our heads
(over our heads)
And we kissed,
as though nothing could fall
(nothing could fall)
And the shame was on the other side
Oh we can beat them, for ever and ever
Then we could be Heroes,
just for one day

We can be Heroes
We can be Heroes
We can be Heroes
Just for one day
We can be Heroes

We're nothing, and nothing will help us
Maybe we're lying,
then you better not stay
But we could be safer,
just for one day

—“Heroes,” by David Bowie and Brian Eno, 1977, David Bowie - Heroes + lyrics - YouTube  long version (6:11)

Right now we are alive and in this moment I swear we are infinite.   
—Charlie (Logan Lerman), while listening to “Heroes,” aka the "Bridge song" 

A smart and perfectly delightful teen film that fills the vacuum left behind by John Hughes, written and directed by the source novelist Stephen Chbosky, who like Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, uses a series of letters written to an anonymous friend to describe events happening onscreen, expressed through the inner narration of 15-year old Charlie (Logan Lerman) as he is about to enter his first year of high school.  While the book’s popular success in 1999 makes it part of the cultural landscape, following the exploits of a melancholic teenager whose troubled life has seen its share of sorrows, the movie version has a similar emotionally evocative tone, but leaves out pertinant details and many of the more memorable scenes from the book, including the infamous poem.  Perhaps what works best is the author’s own adaptation which features terrific writing, extraordinary powers of observation, and a superlative cast of fully realized characters that bring the book to life.  Set in the early 90’s in a suburb just outside Pittsburgh, Charlie is seen as a shy introvert bordering on suicidal, recently recovering from depression, filled with trepidation as he feels no one likes or understands him, including his family who haven’t a clue who he is or what he thinks, overshadowed by his more popular athletic older brother Chris (already in college) and straight A student sister Candace (Nina Dobrev).  Dreading his first day of school, he measures the day by the numbers of accumulating disasters that occur and counting how many days are left in the school year.  Only one class interests him, English, where his teacher, Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd), is sadly the only friend he makes.  Charlie has recurring flashbacks of his Aunt Helen (Melanie Lynskey), perhaps the closest relative he had as a child, as she died in a car accident when he was 6, something he still blames himself for, where bad feelings overwhelm him at the most inopportune moments.           

What we learn from Charlie’s letters is an astounding honesty about himself, beautifully capturing the thoughts of an alienated and outcast young boy on the brink of experiencing life for the first time, including how to make friends, his first teenage crush, how to deal with his estranged family, and his first experimentation with sex and drugs, where we also learn he’s dealing with the recent suicide of his best friend.  Lerman, who is certainly better looking than your typical teen wallflower, is a sympathetic figure and excels at quietly existing on the fringe, not really participating, but making himself available for others to interact with him just by being there.  In his overly polite manner, not wishing to offend anyone, he manages to meet a group of non-conformist seniors who just pull him along, as they’re a friendly group that describe themselves as misfits, including his two favorite people, the outrageously nervy Patrick, Ezra Miller from We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011), and Patrick’s delightfully gorgeous step-sister Sam (Emma Watson), who he secretly falls in love with instantly to the car radio music of David Bowie’s “Heroes.”  Watson’s infamous Harry Potter notoriety works wonders here as millions have already fallen in love with her, so other than wearing too much make-up on occasion, she’s positively delightful, where especially after watching her dance so enthusiastically to Dexys Midnight Runners “Come On Eileen” THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER - Clip "Come On Eileen" YouTube (56 sec), or the same scene broken down by individual shots The Perks of Being a Wallflower - b-rolls 3 YouTube (5:43), any high school kid could only idealize being able to spend time with her.  This dynamic duo of Patrick and Sam literally lead him into the promised land of opportunity, including his first party, his first experience of getting high, his first dance, and his first chance at being accepted into a clique, where Sam expresses joyfully “Welcome to the island of misfit toys.”  Patrick is used to garnering attention as a class clown, where his natural flamboyance is startling, but much of that is all an act while he secretly has a closeted gay relationship with one of star football players.

Certainly one of the centerpieces of the film is the high school reproduction of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975), where they all get dressed up in glam costumes while lip-synching, dancing, and mimicking the movie which is playing behind them.  Both Patrick and Sam are featured prominently, while Charlie sits in utter amazement at all the glitter and exposed flesh.  This production has a way of bringing them all closer together, but in typical high school fashion, things don’t go as they seem.  Sam has a lame boyfriend, while Charlie’s own sister has a popular goofball for a boyfriend who he witnesses hitting her, where instead of help, all Candace wants is for him to keep this quiet.  Meanwhile his affection for Sam is shown in a completely inappropriate manner, which makes everyone instantly recoil from him, sending him into his darker regions of despair, where he is overcome by his flashbacks and pent-up anxieties.  Actually this is one of the things the film does best, which is take the time to develop complex but continually flawed characters who have their own hang-ups and insecurities to deal with, as they all come unglued at some point, where the reality of the writing is a welcome relief.      

I walk around the school hallways and look at the people. I look at the teachers and wonder why they're here. If they like their jobs. Or us. And I wonder how smart they were when they were fifteen. Not in a mean way. In a curious way. It's like looking at all the students and wondering who's had their heart broken that day, and how they are able to cope with having three quizzes and a book report due on top of that. Or wondering who did the heart breaking. And wondering why.

In his letters, Charlie is always painfully honest, where his exhilaration allows the audience to soar with him, from the dizzying elation to the crippling depression, where the feelings are never condescending,  People may look back at their high school days as among the happiest days of their lives, but when it’s happening, it also includes the most heartbreakingly painful moments, where young kids struggle to stay alive in those moments and not become engulfed in the pain.  Charlie’s realizations are eye-opening, where the flood of possibilities barely ever materializes, where all the good times may be reduced to a few precious moments, where the intensity of those experiences are unlike any others.  How do you live with that?  How can you trust the future?  Even though Charlie’s freshman year is a bit idealized, as rarely would seniors spend so much time with such a withdrawn kid, nonetheless he experiences the gamut of teenage problems, where we share his struggles to live through them, where the expressed emotions are painful and true. 

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