Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Perks of Being A Wallflower [2012]

MPAA (PG-13)  Roger Ebert (3 1/2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
Roger Ebert's review

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (written and directed by Stephen Chbosky [IMDb] based on his acclaimed 1999 novel by the same name) is worthy of the book about a quiet high school kid with some "back-burning issues" named Charlie.  And IMHO it will almost certainly receive Academy Award nominations in at least a one or another of the following categories: best adapted screenplay (!), best actress in a supporting role (Emma Watson for playing "Sam," Charlie's friend, who he has a terrible and largely unattainable crush on), best actor in a supporting role (Ezra Miller for playing "Sam's" gay step-brother Patrick) and _possibly_ though it'd be more of a longshot, best actor in a leading role (Logan Lehrman for playing Charlie).

By mentioning that one of the key characters in both the book and the film is portrayed as gay, I'm positive that I will have immediately "caused concern" to a fair number of readers who will have found my blog.  On the other hand: (1) that's been part of my point of creating it - to give readers and often especially parents a clear idea of what a film is about so that they can approach it (and their teenage charges) in an informed way and (2) having immediately noted that one of the central characters in the story is portrayed as being gay and further noting now that both the film and the book portray Charlie testing the waters of both sex and drugs, I'd honestly ask parents to reflect back to their teenage years and then seek to assure parents that the descriptions of these escapades given in both the film and the book are IMHO completely believable.

For complete disclosure there's a sequence in the book that was apparently filmed but deleted from the "final theatrical cut" of the film involving Charlie's couple years older but still in high school sister Candace (played by Nina Dobrev) getting pregnant and her asking Charlie to take her to the abortion clinic to have an abortion.  (Parents be _more or less certain_ that this sequence will probably be present in the film's eventual release on DVD/BluRay...)

Yet about 80% of what is described in both the book and the film I lived myself when I was a teenager and I'd give the author/director the benefit of the doubt on the other 20% because I was a somewhat more sheltered kid than than Charlie (though not much more) and more to the point, I was _not_ omnipresent.  So what I did not experience directly, I certainly heard/discussed/debated/argued/whispered about during lunch time conversations in school, on the track during practice after school or in pizza parlors on Friday/Saturday nights.

Now this film [2012] was made some 12-13 years after the book [1999] was written and the book itself was set in suburban Pittsburgh, PA in 1992 (The film continues to be set in suburban Pittsburgh but basically today).   I know from my own experience that one's perspectives do change with time.  One fairly significant difference between the book [1999] and the film [2012] is in its portrayal of the family's faith practices.  In the book [1999], there is only fleeting mention of Charlie's family's Catholicism.  Charlie's family's Catholicism plays a significantly larger (and IMHO ultimately _positive_) role in the film.

To be sure, there is a scene about 1/2 into the film where the director directly compares Charlie's reception of Communion at Christmas (Midnight) Mass to taking LSD.  And I admit that as I watched this scene, my heart sank as I thought angrily to myself "WHY(!) did you have to do this to your film?" But that was only the first reference (an introduction) to the family's religion and further references became increasingly positive.  There's a scene in which Charlie comes to school after having obviously received ashes on his forehead on Ash Wednesday and his more "worldly" vegan/Buddhist girlfriend of the time (as only a high school Caucasian kid from "suburban Pittsburgh" could be a "vegan/Buddhist") Mary Elizabeth (played by Mae Whitman) who was increasingly coming to annoy him, tries to wipe the ashes off (to his even greater irritation).  Reference is made later to Easter (and therefore Resurrection...) and the family is shown several times as praying at dinner. (Indeed, the increase in focus on the family's Catholicism _may_ have played a role in cutting the original book's above mentioned "abortion scene" from at least the theatrical release of the film).

I found the increased reference to Charlie's family's Catholicism both admirable and sensible.  After all, even though the film was in its most general sense a "log" of a somewhat nerdy kid's (a "wallflower's") freshman year in high school, there were definitely "issues" going on.  We're told at the beginning of the film by Charlie that he had "been away" (at some sort of an institution) for the good part of the previous (8th grade) year after his best friend had committed suicide.  Then it was obvious that Charlie had been grieving for the loss of his favorite Aunt Helen (played by Melanie Lynskey) who had died just before Christmas when he was 7 years old.  The last person in the family that she had talked to was Charlie ... So there were _definite issues_ going on in Charlie's family and therefore it is _not_ surprising to me at all that Charlie's family's religion would come into play in its coping with (1) the tragic loss of a beloved Aunt (though as the reader here would suspect, there was certainly more to the story than I'm letting on here ...) and (2) dealing with specifically Charlie's coping with loss of his aunt at 7 and then his best friend (to suicide) some 6-7 years later.  Further, it wouldn't surprise me that the author/director would see this religious aspect playing out a little more clearly in one's early 40s when making the film as opposed to in one's late 20s when he was writing the book.  We grow...

So all in all folks, this is a very good movie.  Parents, I do think that the PG-13 rating, though perhaps somewhat borderline (to R), is appropriate.  I say this because while I do think that parents should be aware of what their kids are watching, this _may_ be one of those films that would be best to leave both teens (and parents) to watch separately / by themselves.  (There's a great scene in the book but not in the movie) about Charlie's father's "big talk" to Charlie as Charlie heads off on his first date (with above mentioned Mary Elizabeth).  Charlie's dad does all the talking, says little but canned if doubtlessly _sincere_ "good advice," and then pats Charlie on the back and says "Good talking to you son..." :-)  But teens just wait, you'll be parents or of your parents' age one day! ;-)  I find the whole film to be like that.  It makes for a wonderful story, but it's one that I'd probably _die_ if I had to see it together with my folks when I was still in high school ;-) ;-).  I had many more reservations with last year's film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo [2011] which I described then as a hard-R and didn't see any particularly compelling reason for a teen under-17 would "need" to see it.  In contrast folks, this film may honestly become the current generation's The Breakfast Club [1985] / Dead Poet's Society [1989].  Yes, it's that good.

So good job Stephen Chbosky and good job rest of the cast!

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1 comment:

  1. Awesome film. Great performances. It's been a long time since I've enjoyed a movie this much. Father's use of Lord's name in vain after family says grace did throw me.