Alternative, ‘indie’ films can go either way.  They can be brilliantly insightful, quirky but cute, interesting and intriguing, or they can be absolute bollocks.  That’s the nature of the beast.

And of course, all indie films will include at least two songs on its soundtrack by The Smiths.  There’s just something about the sweet, yet melancholic dulcet tones of Morrissey’s voice that film makers love when it comes to representing under-represented angst.  Go figure.

The Perks of Being A Wallflower had hints of both of the above during its 102 minutes, but despite this, I would most definitely recommend dragging to your arse to the cinema and immersing yourself into the lives of Charlie, Sam and Patrick.

Actually, it made me cry, which is tres embarrassing in public, so perhaps wait until it comes out on DVD so you can watch it in the safety (and privacy) of your own home.

The Plot:

Based on the novel with the same name (written by Stephen Chbosky, who actually directed the film too), The Perks of Being A Wallflower follows the life of Charlie (Logan Lerman), a very shy teenage boy who is entering his freshmen year.  Throughout the film we are shown his thoughts and feelings through letters he is writing to his ‘friend’, although it’s not until part way through that we learn that the ‘friend’ is his dead best friend who shot himself last year.

Considering the circumstances he’s been through, it’s not a big surprise that Charlie is socially awkward, frequently bullied and terrified of speaking out.  The only person he connects with on his first day is, in fact, his English teacher (Paul Rudd), who recognises a kindred spirit who loves reading books.

It isn’t until Charlie meets Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller), two outgoing, yet socially rejected, seniors that he begins to open up, and we witness their friendship bloom.  However, even as Charlie appears to become more of a ‘normal’ teenager (as if that’s even such a thing), we learn more about his past and the events that have shaped him to become who is is today.

The Perks:

  • The acting in this blew me away.  Emma Watson, finally starting to shed her ‘Hermione Granger’ image  was quirky, imaginative and likeable as Sam, Miller as the charismatic, yet socially rejected homosexual, and Lerman was an absolute stand-out as Charlie.  Coming-of-age films can so easily go wrong if there is something unconvincing or unlikeable about the titular character.  But from the get-go I sort of fell in love with Charlie.  At times I was angry at him, other times I was amazed by how freaking adorable he was, and the whole time, somehow (despite not being through the same traumatic things he himself had gone through) I emphasised with him.
  • The little bits.  As I said above, these types of films can very easily go wrong if they seem contrived or fake.  For me, this one wasn’t and I believe that it was the little added nuances that did it.  Bits that didn’t really matter in the overall storyline, but added to the authenticity of it.  Charlie, standing on the outskirts of the school dance, desperately, obviously, wanting to join in, but seemingly unable to make his feet move.  We’ve all been there; when we know what we should do, yet we can’t convince our brains to help out.  Or when he’s at the football match, and he clearly has no idea what’s going on or how to behave, but he’s there anyway, because he knows its the socially acceptable thing to do.
  • The story arches.  I love films where bits and pieces are revealed as we go along.  I thought that The Perks of Being A Wallflower did this brilliantly.  There was a main storyline yes, but throughout the film we’re hinted at something deeper, and as the story gets more involved we are given little glimpses, until the very end, when’s it’s like ‘AHA’ and everything falls into place.  It’s not the same as a detective film, or a thriller, but rather an ‘Oho’ moment when you understand a new facet of the protagonist’s personality.
  • The sadness.  Is it wrong to like a film because it’s sad?  Pffftt. As embarrassing as it was, it was nice to have a little teary over a character that I felt so emotionally involved with.  It was heart-breaking seeing Charlie fall apart after his friends stop being his friends, damnit!  Heartbreaking I tell you!

The Pits:

  • Why does Charlie have to be close with his cool English teacher?  I don’t care if it’s Paul Rudd, it’s weird.  And a stupid cliche of all high school films.  Is it because Dead Poets’ Society was such a hit that now all films about ostracised teens contain an English teacher that dishes out 20th century literature?  Now don’t get me wrong, my year 12 English teacher was fantastic, and like the good book nerd that I am, I subsequently loved English class.  But does that mean I spent time with his after class, as he handed me the latest in a series of 1st and 2nd edition American classics?  No.  Because I don’t live in a hipster film, that’s why.
  • Building on that, was the lack of refined intertextuality in this film.  For example, Paul Rudd’s character handing over a copy of The Catcher In The Rye and saying to Charlie that it was his favourite book growing up.  Gah.  We get it.  Holden Caulfield is an angsty-teen.  So is Charlie.  Oh wait, let’s give him a book about an angsty-teen.  I get it.  I really do.  Only thing is, EVERYONE gets it.  Pick a book about an angsty-teen that isn’t considered one of the most influential and most talked about books in the past 100 years, alright?
  • The music.  The Smiths.  I love them, but I don’t need to be reminded that the only people who listen to them are cool outcasts who don’t give a damn about the top 40.  Furthermore, possibly the only thing that annoyed me about Sam’s character was her declaration that she knew nothing in freshmen year because she listened to the top 40.  I’m sorry, but being a fan of Britney Spears does not make you a bad, or stupid person.  In the same way that listening to ‘cool’ bands like The Smiths doesn’t necessarily mean you’re more intelligent than the kid sitting across the cafeteria from you.

Books and music rants aside, I really really enjoyed this film.  It was heavier than I had anticipated, but that made me like it all the more. Charlie’s character is someone you fall a little bit in love with, and as his story unfolds you continue to cheer for him, no matter what he’s going through.

Have you seen or read The Perks of Being A Wallflower?  What did you think?  Is the book or the film better?  Please let me know!

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