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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 28, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 39
Many perks to viewing near-perfect Wallflower
Arts & Entertainment
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Many perks to viewing near-perfect Wallflower

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER
Opens September 28


It's been longer than I care to admit, but I still can recall my high school years like they were yesterday. I remember wandering the halls without a pass, heading out on the practice field after stretching in the gym, engaging in heated debates about what story to put on the front page afterhours in the journalism room, and standing in the corner at the Homecoming dance chatting with my friends. I can recall more of my four years as a John R. Rogers Pirate than many of you might think - the highs, lows, and in-betweens in many ways feeling as if they happened yesterday.

I'm not sure I've felt more kinship with a motion picture in recent memory than I have with screenwriter and director Stephen Chbosky's stunning adaption of his own 1999 novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower. At the very least, I haven't seen a movie in 2012 that's affected me quite so intimately, that's moved me in ways difficult to describe and maybe even harder to comprehend. What I do know is that the characters that make up its story, the travails all of them go through, freshman and senior alike, were all ones I felt affiliation with, allowing the funny, heartfelt, and deeply moving drama to become an instant favorite I'm positive I'll return to numerous times in the future.

Of course, there are certain aspects (I don't remotely intend on ruining anything here, so don't expect me to elaborate) that are not close to anything I experienced during my own high school journey. At the same time, the mood of the piece - the way the characters related to one another, the way the haves and the have-nots mingled, made use of one another, became friends, and allowed exterior forces to make them enemies - all of it felt natural, honest, and true. The simple fact is the mistakes we make are the ones we tend to hold onto the longest, our most magnificent triumphs often paling compared to our most insignificant failures.

But that first kiss, that first caress, the first time we held someone else's hand and realized there was a connection going way beyond the physical, all of that and more comes to the forefront in Chbosky's miraculously multifaceted narrative. These are kids we know, definitely of the here-and-now, but also of the 1991 the film is set in. More than that, though, the angst they feel, the apprehensions and the fears they share, the community they create, and the bonds they celebrate are universal, speaking to the kid in all of us no matter what our age or which generation we call ourselves a part of.

I admit I was apprehensive and nervous about the film before entering the theater. Part of me couldn't help but feel that I needed to see another teenage coming-of-age story like I needed someone to slap me across the face with a two-by-four. What new was there to say? What roads not already well-traveled could this group of characters hope to go down? It all sounded like a two-hour festival of melodramatic clichés, and even though I knew of the acclaim Chbosky's novel had achieved, that didn't mean I was willing or ready to believe the adaptation would be more than ordinary.

Color me wrong. This movie may journey into familiar territory, may not always be able to avoid convention entirely, but that doesn't mean it is anything other than magnificent, start to finish. Every time I thought Chbosky was going to take a wrong turn, every time I feared he'd let the proceedings drown in rote cliché, somehow he managed to surprise me, showing a form of hypnotic restraint that held me spellbound.

And what is that story? In all honesty, my summarizing it here isn't particularly important. Just know that what transpires is seen through the eyes of Pittsburgh high school freshman Charlie (Logan Lerman), a teenage loner still reeling from the dual losses of his best friend from middle school via suicide and his beloved Aunt Helen (Melanie Lynskey), thanks to an auto accident a handful of years prior. In high school, he comes into contact with seniors Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson), a brother-sister combo (by marriage, not blood) who decide to take him under their wing, bringing him into their tight-knit circle of friends.

What happens from there? I'm not going to tell you, but by and large it's not that difficult to anticipate a lot of it. Save for a couple of third-act revelations, where the movie is headed is never in doubt, Charlie's voyage of self-discovery as tried and true as any that's been told. It's the getting there that makes what happens so special, the way that Chbosky understands his characters and how he manufactures the world around them, allowing the film to resonate on a mystifying, innermost level few others covering similar terrain have matched.

The cast is uniformly excellent. Lerman, a bit out of his element in both the recent remake of The Three Musketeers remake as well as in Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, acquits himself beautifully as Charlie, his performance building with a subtle eloquence that took me by surprise. Harry Potter standout Watson also proves that she's got more in her than that particular saga - a pair of scenes with Lerman, both inside Sam's bedroom yet profoundly different from one another, are so outstanding they might be the best individual moments I've seen all year.

Yet it is Miller, so good in both We Need to Talk About Kevin and City Island, who blew me away. His performance as Patrick is one of the best of 2012, deserving of as many accolades and awards that could be thrown his way. The places he goes to, the emotions he mines, all of it comes together in a way I couldn't help but be enamored with, and as great as everyone else is - and they are outstanding - his is the performance I'll cherish the longest after the dust settles and my euphoria begins to wane.

Not that I expect said waning to happen anytime soon. Chbosky's movie is a revelation, a marvel of dramatic simplicity and model of a narrative integrity numerous other filmmakers should take note of. He proves that you can take familiar material and make it something special, can find a way to transcend inherent melodrama and take things to a lofty plateau that's as profound as it is true-to-life. The Perks of Being a Wallflower took me back to my own high school years allowing me to revisit them in ways I haven't in eons, the experience of watching it a cathartic free-for-all I can't wait to revel in again.

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