Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

Early on in this transcendent  movie, we find its lead trio at a late night car drive. A song comes up on the radio, a song which we know as David Bowie's anthemic Heroes, but one that they don't yet recognize. They instantly fall in love with it, and Emma Watson's character commands her step-brother  who is at the wheel to drive through "the tunnel", even as our wallflower protagonist Charlie looks on in confusion.  As they get to this tunnel, Watson stands up and spreads her arms above her head. Charlie looks up at her, watching in wonder as she is illuminated by golden streaks of tunnel light.eve Meanwhile, Bowie's chorus crashes and pulses.

"I feel ... infinite" he says.

That, precisely, is how the movie made me feel.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower centers around Charlie -  His closest friend's killed himself the year before and he starts his freshman year painfully shy and alone, desperately counting down the days before he's able to get away. That is, until one fine night he summons the courage to sidle up to senior Patrick  at a football game . He's soon joined by Patrick's step sister Sam (Emma Watson, finally NOT evoking Hermione!) and before he knows it, the boundaries of his life start falling away.

This simple enough coming-of-age story is rendered extraordinary through the manner in which it zeroes in on relatable moments with considerable nuance, or the way in which its characters are so likeable without the movie trying any manipulative tactics to make them superhuman. The incalculable excitement of meeting and connecting with a group of strangers, the nervous joy of realizing a new set of friendships, and the terror of   losing them - Perks swings for the fences with its big bruising heart, and connects every single time.

It helps that it gets in a trio of great performances -    As our wallflower, Logan Lerman perfectly captures the awkwardness and subdued charm of the central character. He's also good with physical comedy - cue the part where he attempts to shuffle up to Sam and Patrick on the dancefloor, doing what can only be described as a variation of the snake dance. For Emma Watson, this is her first real post-Potter test, and she acquits herself remarkably. Her Sam is a character at once tough and vulnerable, self-assured and simultaneously on the verge of important realizations about herself. "We accept the love we think we deserve" says Charlie's English teacher, and it is a lesson that she in particular must learn over the course of the film. The revelation for me though was Ezra Miller's Patrick, whose livewire presence gives the movie a burst of vitality every time he's onscreen.

Ultimately,  The Perks of Being of a Wallflower does the remarkable feat of maintaining a tone of bittersweet melancholy through its running time, while also proving hilarious in its acute observations. Nostalgia permeates its frames - the movie somehow feels like a recounted memory, even though it is told in a present-day chronological manner. Fitting then, considering what a memorable cinematic experience it is.

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