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The Perks of Being a Wallflower

5 Stars

There’s a beautiful moment in The Perks of Being a Wallflower that not only defines Stephen Chbosky’s affecting coming-of-age-story, but also welcomes us in to his warm world where everyone is accepted despite any personal hang-ups, eccentricities, or social clumsiness. This moment happens as Charlie (Logan Lerman), an academically precocious, but socially awkward teen, is introduced to a group of fellow creative free spirits, all precariously muddling their way through the agony of the high school years. His newfound friend, Sam (Emma Watson) welcomes Charlie to the “island of misfit toys.”

But there’s no disdain or ridicule in her tongue. We can tell from the gleam in her eye and the vim in her voice the moniker is a badge of honor, to be worn with pride. From the moment Watson’s character utters that familiar phrase, we realize Charlie has found a place of comfort in the painful social strata of the teen years, and we a place of delight in Chbosky’s intensely personal, but ultimately all-embracing story. Sam’s welcome is for each of us, into Chbosky’s world where hurtful words can be offset by a great song, and where meaningful life comes from acceptance and openness.

Like his own book, which Chbosky adapted to the big screen, the movie is told through a series of letters from Charlie to an unknown recipient. At 16, as he begins his freshman year of high school, Charlie has endured more than his share of tragedy, including the suicide of his best friend, the accidental death of a favorite Aunt, and periodic black-outs that can only be tamed by heavy doses of strong medication. He’s naïve and uncomfortable in his own skin, but he always tries to find joy in the world.

Never one to wallow in his own loneliness, Charlie experiences his defining moment when he goes solo to the school’s football game where he meets Patrick (Ezra Miller), an exuberant cut-up who, despite his homosexuality, is the coolest guy in school. Patrick introduces Charlie to his stepsister Sam, who Charlie can neither resist nor muster the courage to express his affection. Together, the trio explores the fringes of the artsy/outsider crowd that also includes the bossy Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman) and aspiring film student Alice (Erin Wilhelmi) who embrace their lowly place in the school’s social hierarchy like a merry band of misfits.

But the bottom of the social totem pole doesn’t have to be a lonely place, as we find out when the gang bonds over mix tapes (The Smiths, mostly, but also Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Air Supply, David Bowie, XTC, and others), first kisses, pharmaceutically induced pleasures, and midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. In other words, they do what all the “normal” kids do.

One advantage of Chbosky shepherding his own novel through the filmmaking process – even directing it – is that he manages to streamline the story without losing any of the novel’s central themes. The film, never heavy on plot, gains most of its momentum from a well-rounded cast of fragile characters helping one another through life’s most troubling time.  Incredibly strong performances by a handpicked cast, including Watson who is absolutely mesmerizing in her first post-Potter role, create a wonderful chemistry that reminds us of the mix-n-match fascination experienced the first time we saw The Breakfast Club back in 1985. And who knew Miller would ever overcome that horrific monster he played in We Need to Talk About Kevin to become one of the most curiously loveable characters in recent memory.

It’s a rare thing for one of these misfit-teen, coming-of-age films to transcend its PG-13 target audience. Chbosky knew he had his legion of built-in novel fans, but the film’s central message - coupled with an early ‘90s mix tape soundtrack - will certainly resonate emotionally with both teens and adults alike. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an important film that will literally change a lot of lives. Hopefully the film’s place in history will be cemented by those who learn that the island of misfit toys is a place where we never have to feel alone again.

The Perks of Being a WallflowerMPAA Rating: PG-13 on appeal for mature thematic material, drug and alcohol use, sexual content including references, and a fight - all involving teens.
Runtime: 103 mins.
Director
: Stephen Chbosky
Writer
: Stephen Chbosky
Cast: Emma Watson; Logan Lerman; Ezra Miller; Paul Rudd; Nina Dobrev
Genre
: Drama | Romance
Tagline:
Don't Scream...Just Swim!
Memorable Movie Quote: "Welcome to the island of misfit toys"
Distributor:
Summit Entertainment
Official Site:
perks-of-being-a-wallflower.com
Release Date: September 21, 2012 (limited), September 28, 2012 (wide)
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
No details yest available.

Synopsis: A funny and touching coming-of-age story based on the beloved best-selling novel by Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a modern classic that captures the dizzying highs and crushing lows of growing up.

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