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The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Directing: A-
Acting: A-
Writing: B+
Cinematography: A-
Editing: A-

It's sort of ironic that the weakest element of The Perks of Being a Wallflower -- and even then, not by much distance -- is the writing, given that it was adapted for the screen and directed by the guy who wrote the apparently very popular novel on which it was based. That would be Stephen Chbosky, who has written and directed another movie but not since 1995. You wouldn't expect a novelist to be so adept at directing a film version of his own work, but Chbosky is more than up to the task.

Whether he's as adept at adapting written work for the screen is less clear, though only slightly; I have not read the book but based on this movie I can only expect that it's perfectly engrossing. Charlie (Logan Lerman) is a loner starting out as a Freshman in high school, and he's got a lot of problems. The exact depth of his problems is very carefully and slowly revealed throughout the story, and it comes within striking distance of being too much. His claim that his best friend shot himself the previous May is just the beginning; in fact, that particular incident is never mentioned again, which is odd. Was he even telling the truth? He says this during a bout of frank honestly after getting ticked into getting stoned, so I can only assume he was.

There are other traumas to consider, such as what happened to a beloved aunt who turns out to have been not quite what you expect. Meanwhile, uber-introverted Charlie eventually befriends two Seniors: Sam (Emma Watson) and her gay stepbrother, Patrick (Ezra Miller). There's both a modernity and a causal authenticity to the budding friendship among these three that is really quite refreshing. And they are very well cast. Notably, Watson has been interviewed saying she shot that scene joyriding in the bed of a pickup truck through a tunnel feeling like she went out the other side having finally shed all traces of Hermione. Truly, her character here is not one bit reminiscent of that character, and it's great to see her embody another personality so successfully. You watch this movie and you see Emma Watson looking toward a rich and varied career.

The same could be said of the other two, Logan Lerman and Ezra Miller, although they have no massively iconic character to shed. Between the three of them, anyone who was not part of the popular crowd can find something with which to identify. Certainly it touched me on a deeply personal level, due to myriad parallels to my own past. I can't possibly be the only one, and this is what makes it easy to see why the book was popular.

God knows, a lot of famous people apparently liked it too: we find Paul Rudd as a friendly English teacher; Dylan McDermott and Kate Walsh as Charlie's parents; Melanie Lynskey as the aforementioned aunt -- a tricky part if ever there was one; even a surprisingly old-looking Joan Cusack as a doctor. They all blend in nicely, though. McDermott in particular is nearly unrecognizable even though he plays little more than a typical dad.

This is a movie that is by turns charming, uplifting, and very sad. When it comes to the emotions, even if the script falters ever so slightly, it always feels right. This is a credit to the actors, but also the director, and even the cinematography, which is unusually conscientious for a film of this nature. That scene in the tunnel, actually, is beautifully shot. It's a turning point for the actor, the character, and for us as viewers: this is a movie worth noticing, and that's when it becomes clear.

Charlie writes letters to an unnamed, presumably imaginary friend. This was apparently the conceit of the novel: we read all his letters to this person, to whom he always refers as "dear friend." He'll make references to when "things were bad" or he's "getting bad again," and it takes some time to find out exactly what that means. Charlie is actually pretty screwed up, it turns out. But he's also coming of age, as are his friends, even though they are three years apart. They complement each other in the process.

That, perhaps, is the main reason why this movie works. It's totally absorbing and feels like the actual trials and tribulations of adolescence. Well, except maybe for the shrill countdown of a crowd to the last minute of the school year, followed by cheers and dancing. That never happened at my high school. It's fun to watch, though. When a movie like this can move so seamlessly between the hopeless despair and unbridled joy of kids only beginning to understand what they're going through -- and the extent to which such emotional extremes are justified -- its a clear winner. And best of all, it leaves you feeling gratitude for the life you've managed since the dark days of high school. Or at least it did me, anyway.

(L-R) Mae Whitman, Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller and Erin Wilhelmi demonstrate THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER.

Overall: A-
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