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TIFF 2012 Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

'There's no gimmick or schtick here. [...] This is what drama is all about.'

 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is actually an important movie, but it doesn’t let you know how important it is. That’s really the only way to do it, because normally I hate important movies to begin with. Wallflower got me emotionally and then I realized, “Wait, this is really real. I hope this educates and assists people.”

Charlie (Logan Lerman) returns to school after a hospitalization, and he generally sits at the back of the wall being ignored. However he makes friends with Patrick (Ezra Miller) in woodshop and Patrick opens his world to a whole slew of cool, nonconformist friends. Sam (Emma Watson), the sexually experienced before her time beauty, and Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman), the hard-edged bitter goth figure most prominently, but there are a bunch of them.

Getting to watch Charlie gradually come out of his shell is moving, but it is a credit to the loving world of friendship Patrick & Co. create. These young characters are really smart and thoughtful. Their Secret Santa scene shows how much caring they put into their group, and it shows through in little moments throughout. Opening up reveals more complex feelings in Charlie than he or a mainstream audience would expect. For example, he actually gets a girlfriend, and then kind of doesn’t like it.

There’s no gimmick or schtick here. It’s not “You won’t believe this crazy thing some high school kid did to try to get popular!” Writer/director Stephen Chbosky really captures something with the cast and characters. It’s not nostalgia. Maybe it’s just genuine. It’s not the extreme negativity of a Mean Girls and not the extreme glorification of an American Pie.

The characters deal with significant subjects, and rather than rub the Oscar bait in your face, they almost try not to tell you they’re dealing with self-hating gays terrified to come out and young women adopting abusive relationship patterns at an early age. That, and Charlie really is socially awkward. It’s not “cute Asperger’s” like in most movies, he really has to learn from square one what’s okay to say and what behavior is not acceptable. Man, these are relevant themes and I never once felt spoon-fed a message.

The film hits on some poignant philosophy too. How do you get someone to see they deserve more love than their significant other is giving them? But also, just putting others ahead of yourself doesn’t count as love. In fact, it can be downright selfish if you’re not even developing your own persona enough to have something to offer the world.

I was concerned that Charlie uses a narrative device of writing anonymous letters to a friend to give exposition about his new friends. It turned out okay though. He didn’t spell things out for us. When all the elements described above unfold, it’s really dramatic. This is what drama is all about, characters just behaving. They can bring all the pain and joy a movie needs if they’re not wasting time explaining why they’re doing everything.