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

By Amanda Mae Meyncke | Film | September 26, 2012 |

By Amanda Mae Meyncke | Film | September 26, 2012 |

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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