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The Perks of Being a Wallflower Review: Hell Is Other People's Nostalgia

By Amanda Mae Meyncke | Film Reviews | September 26, 2012 | Comments ()


The-perks-of-being-a-wallflower-emma-watson-photo.jpg

There can be two kinds of people who like this movie, 1) people who watch it and see a shadow of their former selves, replete with a burgeoning appreciation for the Smiths and a fascination with Harper Lee that eventually melted into a voracious appetite for life and curiosity about the world around them, or 2) people who watch it and have never progressed past this high school point, didn't really find anything more to read, still listen to the same things, and think the same "expansive" thoughts. Mesmerize me once, shame on me, mesmerize me ten thousand times and I'm starting to feel like I'm never getting any older, cycling through someone else's nostalgia several times a year for golden-tinged outsider experiences that everyone seems to have had.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower revolves around young Charlie (Logan Lerman), a freshman who reads a lot and isn't popular at high school. When he meets his new senior best friends, played by Ezra Miller and Emma Watson, things begin to turn around for Charlie, as he makes his way through some big changes in his life. All the experiences of high school are here for the plundering, football games, dances, first kisses and sexual experiences, all the makings of a normal high school experience. And yes, there's a few unique bits thrown in as well, exploratory forays into homosexuality, jaunts to the Rocky Horror Picture Show, crippling depression and various coping mechanisms.

To his credit, the writer of the novel turned screenwriter-and-director Stephen Chbosky, has made an evocative film with some real moments of pleasure and emotion that ring true. The pacing works quite well, the look of the film and the way that certain moments hit are hard, real and weighty is fantastic. Unfortunately the details have escaped Mr. Chbosky and he relies too entirely perhaps on the strength of his writing in the book to carry appreciation for the movie.

There's a lot of the sort of thoughts that appear to be interesting when someone you like spouts them on a first date, but upon further thinking you realize isn't quite rubbish, it's just something that doesn't exactly merit being expressed, like many high school ponderings. For instance, at first Charlie asks his teacher why people fall in love with the wrong people, and his teacher says, "We accept the love we think we deserve." Well, Chobsky believes this message to be so important it's repeated later on. It may be true, it may just feel true, either way, it is obviously meant to be profound and just winds up feeling a bit annoying.

The performances run the gamut from forgettable to acceptable, with the notable exception of Ezra Miller, who always gives his best and is granted a big, wide, fun role to run around in. Logan Lerman as our sweet main character is unfortunately unexceptional for the majority of the film, before pulling ahead and vastly improving in the third act. Hermione Granger is similarly unimpressive, always thrashing about, though never quite losing her essential prim and proper-ness, which would have been necessary to fully embody the role. Mae Whitman as a divergent punk Buddhist and Nina Dobrev as Charlie's older sister, are sweet and enjoyable in their co-starring roles.

I'm bored of the faux-intellectual life. I'm tired of meeting people spoon-fed on this exact Perksian diet of liking the right music, the right movies and the right books, thinking they somehow invented The Catcher in the Rye or their appreciation for "obscure" bands such as Radiohead. I think I'm mostly sick of coming of age movies. I'm sick of feeling like I'm living through that confusing time over and over again, watching other teens and young adults come to the same startling, new-to-them realizations, over and over. People miming intelligence and experience at us because they simply don't have it yet. Perhaps the book was more shocking at its time of release, the year 1999, but with the advent of shows such as Skins and My So-Called Life, the phenomena of this particular era of teenage angst has been explored rather thoroughly, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower simply has nothing new to add to the conversation. Aren't we all ready to grow up a bit?

Still, If you adore coming of age stories, or the book itself then you should definitely go see it. And hey, maybe it'll ring true to you, grasping at something inside you that you had forgotten.


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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • Beau Hajavitch

    I thought someone on here would talk about how the filmmaker seems to be in his own little world, what with no sign of today's gadgets like computers, cell phones, etc., and the abundance of cassette tapes and typewriters. I thought someone would point out how the filmmaker seems to be saying, "I don't care if I wasn't born yet back then or I was too young, THAT'S the kind of movie I want to make, and I'm going to make it now regardless of what today's world is like." That's not a badf thing, it just makes the film exist in its' own little quiet world. Too bad instead of Bowie's "Heroes," they couldn't have made a new song into a star, but radio wouldn't play it anyway. Pop radio only plays hip-hop/dance tunes, and rock radio only plays '70s tunes.

  • Lindzgrl

    I haven't seen this, so I can't speak for the movie, although I loved the book. But based on this review I more feel like you weren't in the right place to see this film than I think it was mediocre...

  • junierizzle

    The movie looks like it might be decent but I have to call bullshit. I was a wallflower and a HOT girl never befriended me. So I'm getting tired of movies about loners that get befriended by hot girls. ITS BULL.

  • blorft

    Hmm. I saw this and really liked it, but I did also read and love the book in middle school, so I guess I'm a special case. It is, in many ways, a melodramatic story, in the way that many adolescents are melodramatic and pretentious and feel feelings all the time. I just accept that that's a feature of that life stage, and don't necessarily perceive it as prescriptive to me as an adult. I don't think the audience was being asked to like the same things or feel the same way as the characters, just being shown how integral those things were for those kids' evolving identities.

    So when a failed-writer high school English teacher says "We accept the love we think we deserve," it sounds to me like something that kind of person would say to a teenager who was feeling hurt, and it IS sort of an interesting statement to think about. I can also see why it stuck with the teenage character enough to repeat, and it made sense for his arc. I don't think it was an attempt to rewrite my own life philosophy or blow my mind, so I wasn't particularly annoyed by it.

    I also thought that Charlie was played really well. He was painfully awkward but easy to empathize with, and the character is pretty repressed for most of the story, so I'm not sure that this was a failure on the actor's part.

    I was looking forward to this review, but I would have liked to hear more about the movie, and not about how annoying the reviewer finds teenagers. That said, she's right, if you don't like coming of age stories, teenagers or 90s nostalgia, stay home.

  • I dunno, I suppose coming-of-age stories have existed for quite some time (Great Expectations?) Perhaps you're not a fan because you can't relate to this type of story?

    And yes, Charlie is probably going to grow up to be Dick from High Fidelity, but when you're a teenager, discovering Radiohead (or bands like them) and Catcher in the Rye (or books like it) is all part of the EXPERIENCE. That's why two or three generations of people have had a good chuckle when their 13 year old "discovers" the Beatles.

    That said....do they keep the whole aunt storyline in it? Because that kind of came WAY out of left field in the book.

  • Amanda Meyncke

    They do keep the aunt storyline in and it doesn't quite come from left field as it's referenced throughout.

  • valerie

    Thanks, I was dying to know if this was kept in. I remember reading the book and being vaguely offended by the "surprise" twist. For me, it sort of taints everything that previously happened or was being felt by the main character because he's not JUST a walflower, now is he?
    I have no idea why the author added it in the first place. It completely distracts from the central theme of the story.

  • Matchetes

    There is a third category of people who might like this film - teenagers, the audience this film was actually aimed at. This film wouldn't feel like nostalgia to them. It seems strange to me that that the writer reviewed a young adult film from the point of view of whether or not it speaks to older adults.

  • Idle Primate

    i was thinking that exactly. the novel was written for youths, i assume that's the film's audience as well. it isn't meant to be a middle aged reflection on youth. the review ends up sounding like "why do we need things that speak to young people, because i am not a young person and not interested"

  • Wednesday

    You are entirely correct. My teenager and her friends adore this book, and are wildly anticipating seeing the movie. I read it because she raved about it, and came away with the same, "oh isn't that cute" feeling that most non-teens will have. But for them, it's fresh.

    And don't be so sure that "We accept the love we think we deserve" is a boring old cliche. Sometimes, the simplest concepts can be a revelation, no matter what your age. We spend our entire lives making things complicated when usually they're startlingly simple.

  • F'mal DeHyde

    I'm sure there's a large teen audience for films but they need to appeal to adults as well if they hope to make any money. I'm certainly not interested in seeing it.

  • Matchetes

    That wasn't my point at all. Of course teenage films can and do appeal to adults. My point was that this was a movie that is primarily meant to speak to the experiences of youth while they are a youth and should be judged as a success or failure in that context.

  • stump

    Wow, what a shitty review. I didn't particularly like this overly twee book, but for sure there was more to say about it.

  • jamie pants

    I certainly don't think it was a shitty review...however, it does seem to me that the Amanda may have been the wrong person to review the film. If you're bored with this particular type of story, then I'd rather you not be the one to review it. Surely one of the other critics (who was not already bored with the genre before walking into the movie) would have been better suited.

  • Amanda Meyncke

    I try never to know what movies are about before I go in, I avoid trailers if I can, and so forth. I think some experiences should be protected and I always want the film to stand on its own. I had never read the book, never seen a trailer, I knew it was about high school and that's it. I was looking forward to seeing the movie, as I look forward to every movie.

    I expect movies to be surprising, to change our minds about things, to enlighten and expand our world rather than limit or degrade it. If I expected anything less every time I went into a movie I would have given up ages ago, based on the enormous amount of terrible movies that get made, but optimism is a necessity.

    Shouldn't we confront things head on? Especially difficult things, things we think we might not like? If only people who were already predisposed to like a movie were assigned to write about it, we'd be further in the hole than we already are, ever more divided and unable to relate to the other side of any issue or idea.

  • Holli Downs

    The entire paragraph beginning with, "
    I’m bored of the faux-intellectual life," is just beautiful. Nodding as I read. Well done. And thank you, I agree.

  • Abbey Road

    I am starting to be the same way with coming-of-age movies/books. There are still really great ones that ring really true and honest, but they're few and far between, whereas the 19-yr-old me loved *most* of the ones I saw/read. I think, my dear reviewer, that this phenomenon: having "come of age," and then having relived it a few hundred times in various art forms, and now being kind of over it... (deep breath...) this is called "getting old." I'm with you. We'll be okay. It happens to everyone.

  • Amanda Meyncke

    I agree with you. I kept thinking while watching, "I think I'm getting old."

  • Abbey Road

    [Unless you are 19. In which case, good luck with your late 20s, if you're already this bored with Smiths and Radiohead.]

  • ERM

    I thought one of the main underlying themes of the book was exploring patterns of abuse. Did that transfer over to the movie? If not, then I will take your word for it that it is a standard coming of age story and not worth watching.

  • Amanda Meyncke

    I felt they hinted at such things but never delved into them properly, one way in which a novel has potentially more scope for such things than a film.

  • alannaofdoom

    I had not read the book when I saw the movie (bought it on the way home, in fact) and I thought that theme came through quite clearly. In retrospect some of the exploration may have been a little rushed through, which I think is because you've got much less space to do things in a two-hour movie than you do in a book.

    Originally I hesitated to see this movie because I thought the previews were terrible - yet another Manic Pixie Dream Girl. But it was so well reviewed everywhere (...except here) that I took a chance. I'm glad I did. I found it entirely absorbing and engaging.

    Obviously one's reaction to the movie - as acknowledged in the review - will depend on whether one is sick of coming-of-age stories or not. I guess I'm not? Or I have a more generous view than this reviewer. I mean, "People miming intelligence and experience at us because they simply don't have it yet." Yeah, I did that. We all did that! How do you discover who you are? By trying on all these constructed identities and learning which bits fit and discarding those that don't.

    Also, you know, in the fifth paragraph maybe the reviewer could credit the actress (Emma Watson) rather than referring to her as a character she played in, yes, some very famous movies? Come on now, even if you didn't like her performance, that's pretty low.

  • Amanda Meyncke

    I meant nothing but love by calling her Granger. I have nothing but the highest respect for Hermione Granger.

  • alannaofdoom

    Understood - I think I started to feel strangely defensive about the film as I read your review, and I had skimmed the plot-summary paragraph on my first read-through, so initially thought you were only referring to her as Hermione.

  • alannaofdoom

    (Also, I liked neither Catcher in the Rye nor Radiohead when I was growing up, so perhaps I'm having a second coming of age now or something...)

  • GoodFreakinGravy

    This was a movie review of how the writer feels about nostalgia, with a whole paragraph about the actual film. Basically, it reads as a blog post and I expect better from Pajiba reviews.

  • AudioSuede

    I know what it's like to write a review that's more personal than critical, having done so for this very site in the Music days, and it's not the end of the world to do so, but I have to agree, this does lack a strong analysis of the film or the story, especially for someone like me who hasn't read the book but am curious as to whether the film is of quality or not.

  • googergieger

    FLCL>

  • Tinkerville

    I think FLCL's one of the best coming of age tales of all time. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to find my eyebrows..

  • stryker1121

    So, needs more kids sprouting robots from their heads and crazy chicks brandishing electric guitars. eh?

  • googergieger

    I.E. Puberty?

    That guy *points* knows what I'm talking about.

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