Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Wallflowers bloom in coming-of-age film

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Football games and awkward dances, late-night gabfests at the local diner and tentative first kisses -- they're all there over the course of a school year in The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

This coming-of-age drama, based on the bestselling young-adult novel of the same name, may sound like total formula, right down to the rebellious thrill of experimenting with drugs and alcohol and the liberation of experiencing The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But there's also a darkness that follows its main character, even at his happiest, which keeps the film from turning completely safe and self-satisfied.

Perks features a well-chosen cast, an eclectic music mix (David Bowie, New Order, Air Supply) and some moments of uncomfortable honesty as well as dreamlike wonder. And it's anchored by strong performances on two ends of the acting spectrum: from Logan Lerman as Charlie, the first-year high school student of the film's title whose reserved nature can't hide his obvious intelligence and sweetness; and from Ezra Miller in a showy turn as Patrick, the quick-witted and gay senior-class clown who takes Charlie under his wing. (The role couldn't be more different from Miller's frightening work as the diabolical teen in We Need to Talk About Kevin.)

The young woman who completes their little triangle of blissful misfits is the perky but damaged Sam, played by Harry Potter star Emma Watson (without a trace of a British accent). Also a senior, Sam is Patrick's stepsister and Charlie's first serious crush. Maybe they invite Charlie into their inner sanctum a bit too quickly, but there's an irreverent, playful energy to their antics and a subversive sense of humour that makes you not mind so much.

Directed and written by Perks novelist Stephen Chbosky, the film follows these characters and their friends through all the rituals of a school year in suburban Pittsburgh. He features heavy use of voice-over early on, as Charlie narrates the letters he writes to a mysterious, unseen recipient, but there's also great delicacy in the characters' intimate interactions.

Charlie is more unstable and unsure of himself than the average entering freshman following the suicide of his best friend. The death messed him up, and it marked him by association. Maybe Patrick and Sam recognize his outsider status in themselves; in no time, the three are inseparable. The film takes place in a hazy sort of late-'80s, early-'90s time frame -- no one has a cellphone, and mix tapes are a crucial medium for expressing teen angst -- which adds to its feeling of universality. The melancholy Asleep by the Smiths appears so prominently, it's practically a character itself.

Charlie is very much along for the ride with these crazy older kids, including Mae Whitman as the self-described Buddhist/punk rocker who thrusts herself upon him and insists she's his girlfriend. But memories haunt him of something ugly that happened in his childhood, until he finally unravels in a third-act scene that allows Lerman to bust out, show some range and reveal he can really, truly act.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, may not do anything groundbreaking, but it tells a familiar story in small, thoughtful ways.

-- The Associated Press

Other voices

Selected excerpts from reviews of The Perks of being a Wallflower:

 

This is clearly a labour of love that was nurtured and sculpted from the beginning. The result is a film that feels exhilarating, fragile, funny and real.

-- Tom Long, Detroit News

 

Well-soaked in the familiar brine of teen sensitivity.

-- Liam Lacey, Globe and Mail

 

Stephen Chbosky's script is insightful about the exhilaration of soul-piercing first love, and the misery of being swept into a relationship with someone who's forceful, determined and utterly wrong for you.

-- Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star Tribune

 

Verbal play and smartass-ery weaves through Wallflower, but it's of the predictable variety rather than the wryly observant commentary we'd hope for, like when a bored teen drawls: "That works on so many levels."

-- Linda Barnard, Toronto Star

 

What makes it close to a classic is the idea that... we'll warm to the best moments of our adolescent past and revel in every romantic memory, but we'll also cling to even the ones that scarred us.

-- Roger Moore, McClatchy-Tribune News Service

 

All of my previous selves still survive somewhere inside of me, and my previous adolescent would have loved The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

-- Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

 

There is an honesty to The Perks of Being a Wallflower, a genuineness of experience that makes the movie soar when it just as easily could have stumbled.

-- Bill Goodykoontz, Arizona Republic

 

It is the remarkable Logan Lerman who negotiates his journey to Charlie's self-discovery with so much dignity and vulnerability that he steals every scene and carries the picture.

-- Rex Reed, New York Observer

 

Both painful and elating.

-- David Edelstein, NPR

 

Likable, unsurprising and principally a showcase for the pretty young cast, notably Mr. Miller, who brings texture to his witty if sensitive gay quipster.

-- Manohla Dargis, New York Times

 

-- Compiled by Shane Minkin

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 5, 2012 D4

History

Updated on Friday, October 5, 2012 at 9:32 AM CDT: adds fact box, adds photo

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