Judge Gordon Sullivan even withered as a wallflower.
We accept the love we think we deserve.
As a young person, I skipped right over teen novels. I went from Goosebumps at 10 to Stephen King at 12, never looking at the stuff in between. Not that we had all that many teen novels when I was growing up. This was before the age of Twilight and The Hunger Games. Even in those olden days before publishers realized what a lucrative market teen readers could be—if you coaxed them enough with movie adaptations—there were a few standout classics in the genre of coming-of-age teen books. One of those classics is The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. Despite the popularity of the book it resisted cinematic adaptation for over a decade until Chbosky stepped up to write and direct the film version of his novel. The wait was worth it, as The Perks of Being a Wallflower captures much of the feeling of being an adolescent, even if the film's appeal won't travel far outside that demographic.
Facts of the Case
Charlie (Logan Lerman, 3:10 to Yuma) is starting his first year of high school as an outsider. He's not cool, not popular, and has no friends. During his first day in shop class, Charlie sees a senior, Patrick (Ezra Miller, Californication) making fun of the teacher (played by Tom Savini!). Later, at a football game, Charlie approaches Patrick; together with his stepsister Sam (Emma Watson, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets), they take Charlie under their wing. The rest of the film charts Charlie's growing acceptance of his place as a wallflower.
Though I'm well outside the target demographic of teenage viewers, The Perks of Being a Wallflower won me over. The first thing that stands out about the film, at least to me, is the excellent dialogue. Chbosky has a way with words, and in the best Joss Whedon tradition his teenage characters speak their own language. It's one that's related to the world outside, but it's charged with all the emotion of adolescence.
This dialogue would be useless without the trio of leads that Chbosky has assembled. Lines like "I feel infinite" could fall utterly flat if Logan Lerman didn't give them the willful sincerity he does. It's a sincerity that is willing to risk being silly in the face of overwhelming feeling. Ezra Miller's Patrick could have just been another mincing gay stereotype, but he gives the character a openness that's impressive. Moreover, when the script calls for him to go all-out (as in the scene where the group visits a showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show with Patrick as Frank-n-Furter), he doesn't hold back for a second. Finally, Emma Watson could have turned in an easy performance riffing on the manic-pixie-dream-girl stereotype, but her Sam is well-rounded and mature, conflicted without seeming capricious. The film is worth watching for their performances alone.
I would also be remiss if I didn't point out that the film's unsung hero is Pittsburgh. Chbosky grew up near the 'Burgh and the epic sweep of some of its vistas informs the limitless feeling his characters are trying to achieve. Several scenes set in Pittsburgh's tunnels and bridges open the film up in ways that other settings would not.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower gets a solid DVD presentation. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer has an appropriately dark and dreamy look. Detail is strong, colors are spot-on, and black levels are consistent and deep. This isn't a razor-sharp reference transfer, but maintains the beauty of Charlie's slowly widening perspective. Exterior shots of Pittsburgh are especially impressive. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track is equally impressive. Dialogue is clean and clear from the center channel, while the film's perfect use of music often fills the soundstage perfectly. Surround get a bit of use during crowd and party scenes offering nice directionality.
Extras start with a commentary by Chblosky. He's talkative throughout the film's running time, sharing anecdotes about production and his own take on the film, which is overwhelmingly positive. He's joined by his trio of leads (and Mae Whitman) for a second commentary. This one is a bit more laidback and chatty, with everyone sharing stories of the production. There are also 23 minutes of deleted scenes, and a number of bits in the transition from novel to screen are included here. In his optional commentary Chblosky shares his reasoning behind leaving several subplots on the cutting room floor. Chblosky also offers optional commentary on a set of dailies. A short making-of featurette and the film's trailer round out the disc. An Ultraviolet and Digital Copy of the film are available with this release as well.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is of course too perfect. The wide-eyed Charlie has exactly the right group of friends, and just the right boxes seem to be checked for his optimal development. He's got the dark past, the distant parents, the gay friend, the older crush, the issues with drugs and domestic violence. And largely, everything works out for him in ways that make perfect narrative sense. Which is another way of saying that the film ignores the messiness of adolescent life in many respects. It's also not afraid of treading near cliché (Paul Rudd's perfect English teacher is close to embarrassing) and being on-the-nose about things. I think the film gets past all these elements with a bit of honesty and self-awareness, but many viewers will likely just see the unrealistic elements.
The film's ending is also a bit of a head-scratcher. I don't want to give too much away, but the film relies on a third act revelation (it's hard to call it a twist in a coming-of-age drama) that feels a bit "eh." I understand that it's true to the books and all that, but it feels like it would have been more effective woven throughout the film or jettisoned completely.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a fine coming-of-age flick for teens. Though it deals with dark mature subject matter, the treatment is honest and serious. Though many adults will likely want to skip the too-neat narrative, the strong performances throughout (especially from the three leads) makes it worth watching even for those who would rather forget their teenage years. The well-packed DVD and solid presentation make this disc easy to recommend for fans of the novel and anyone looking to revisit the difficulties of adolescence. Like the book, this film will likely be passed from friend to friend for years to come.
Despite its flaws, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Summit Entertainment
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