Charlie (Logan Lerman) is starting his first day of high school. He has no friends, a distant family, and is too painfully introverted to change any of this. Fortunately when he starts school he falls in with Patrick (Ezra Miller), Sam (Emma Watson) and their small group of “misfit toys,” who all help Charlie to realise who he is and what is important in life, and what may have led to the way he is.
I’ve never done this before. As I type this, I literally stopped watching this film less than 10 minutes ago. I had no intention of reviewing this film as I watched it, but I feel I absolutely must. This past weekend I decided that, as there’s nothing at my local cinema that I wanted to see (they seem to be refusing to play Stoker), then I would rent a few of the more light-hearted films from last year that I’d missed. So, using my still-surviving local Blockbuster and a dusted-off rental card, I picked up Madagascar 3, Ice Age 4, Men in Black 3 and The Perks Of Being A Wallflower. Obviously those first three are all varying degrees of silliness and frivolity, ranging from tightrope-dancing hippos to time travelling Conchords, via prehistoric piratical primates, and were a similarly mixed bag of quality (Madagascar 3: choose life, 4/10; Ice Age 4: choose film 7/10, Men in Black 3: choose life, 6/10). Wallflower, on the other hand, was not the simple high school throwaway coming-of-age comedic romance that I’d expected, and so I feel compelled to write about it. As I wasn’t intending to write anything about it any longer than 140 characters I didn’t take any notes, and as such this will be an even messier jumble of nonsense than usual, but when you gotta write, you gotta write. And dammit, I gotta write.
As the film began, I felt that familiar feeling flow over me of a film I just wasn’t going to like, because the story unfolding was the kind of thing I’d been led to believe growing up would happen to an outsider. I didn’t fit in at school; I didn’t have too many friends. You remember the kid who would ask for extra homework because he’d already done what had been set for that weekend? Well he used to beat me up for being too nerdy. I was a pupil librarian who got fired – that’s right, fired from being a pupil librarian – twice. Well, technically one time I was made redundant, as there just wasn’t enough work to go around, but the other time I was definitely sacked for misconduct involving a staple gun that I was being attacked with. Anyway, not only was I fired twice, but I was re-employed (to a job that cost nothing but every second of every lunchtime) each time. Did I mention I also founded my school’s chess club, and carried around a plastic bag full of origami animals I made in the spare time in which I wasn’t cataloguing books? Well, needless to say popularity was never anything I had to concern myself with, and the early scenes of Wallflower, in which Charlie finds life at school with no one to talk to isn’t the most pleasant of experiences. The scene where, on his first day, he befriends his English teacher (Paul Rudd) particularly resonated with me, as two people I spoke to the most during my five years of secondary school were the head librarian, Mr. Stevens, and my science teacher/tutor, Mr. Staines (who co-founded the chess club with me, and gifted me with a glass chess set on the last day of school, which to this day I still have and long for someone to play it against).
But of course Charlie soon plucks up the courage to speak to a fellow outsider, but one who is considerably more extroverted than he, Ezra Miller’s flamboyant Patrick, and his step-sister Sam (Watson). At the homecoming ball the three bond over dancing to Dexy’s Midnight Runners (incorrectly labelled by Sam as good music) and Charlie – after pouring his heart out in a post-pot-brownie high – has found himself a group of people willing to call themselves his friends. This was exactly the kind of meeting I had been assured through films would one day happen to me. The Breakfast Club showed Brian (Anthony Michael Hall) connecting with other social groups and finding out they were all the same underneath. Almost Famous had an outsider two years younger than he’d always been told (something I always assumed when I was younger too, because I was an arrogant son of a bitch) having the time of his life by running into Kate Hudson. Even Weird Science had Hall again, with Ilan Mitchell Smith, becoming popular and getting the girls via a fortuitous lightning strike and a scantily clad Barbie doll. My formative years were spent waiting for such a situation to come along, but alas I realise now that perhaps I should have gone out and looked for it. As such, Wallflower aggravated me early on as I witnessed someone to whom I could draw parallels with myself falling into a lifestyle I’d always hoped for. This initial snarky cynicism undoubtedly paid off exponentially later in the film, when my defences had been laid low in preparation for Charlie realising that all he had to do was actually talk to people to not be so lonely, and he’d fall in love with Sam, Patrick would be his kooky best friend and they’d live riotously and happily forever more. What I didn’t expect was just how emotionally gut-wrenching this film would be, so much so that I very nearly teared up on several occasions, for reasons I have no explanation for.
I’m rambling like some kind of drunkard, possibly due to antibiotic withdrawal as I attempt to wean myself from my cold medicine, but I’m actually going to try and talk about the film now. This was supposed to be a review, after all, and I apologise because instead I seem to be using it as a therapy session. Meh, whatever works. Unless I go into exact detail into the plot of this film, which I have little to no intention of doing beyond what I’ve already said, this will not be the film you are expecting to see. Or at least, it wasn’t for me. Yes, there are some anticipated elements of every film set in a high school – the first romance, dances, football games, parties, fights – but the story went places I wasn’t expecting, and did so in ways I’m still trying to fathom. Very little is shown to you exactly, as we see things from Charlie’s perspective, and he has a habit of blacking out now and then, but the drip feed of information, combined with the psychological hazy semi-memory of events Charlie’s sub-conscious is making it’s best efforts to conceal make this a riveting and imaginative telling of a story that could have drawn far different emotions had it been played straighter.
The acting in this film is amazing, particularly from Lerman and Miller. I have yet to see either of the pair’s well known previous features – Percy Jackson And The Lightning Thief or We Need To Talk About Kevin – but I will gladly sit down to watch either of them if the acting on display is anything close to that in Wallflower. Kevin, at least, will definitely be seen this year, as the DVD has been sat on my bookcase since just before last Christmas. The weaker link in the lead trio was surprisingly Watson, more known for being the brighter spark of three young film leads in the Harry Potter franchise. She is by no means terrible here as the flawed object of Charlie’s idolised affections, but when compared to her co-stars her thinner character (figuratively, physically they are all wafer thin) is overshadowed somewhat. The supporting cast is also excellent, is a little wasted in places, as Joan Cusack, Melanie Lynskey and the aforementioned Rudd all have very small roles, but then they are all bit-players in the story of Charlie and his friends, so this is just as it should be. I’m positive there is far more to this film that I really should mention, and I fully intend to do so once I have watched it again, but alas the DVD is due back tomorrow and sleep beckons, so it may be some time before I get the chance to watch it again. Were I not still ill and in a position where I must work tomorrow, I’d more than happily put the disc back in and watching it again.
This is the second film of director Stephen Chbosky, who also adapted his own novel, and it upsets me to learn that his first piece, The Four Corners of Nowhere, seems to be relatively unheard of wherever I look. If it is anything like this work then I sincerely hope to track it down one day, and that that day is soon. For the mean time, my mission is now to find the book and devour that instead, as this is literally the first time a film has ended and I’ve just sat, dumbfounded, unable to respond. If you’ve read this far then you’ve done better than me, because I fear if I read this the I won’t post it, but I apologise as I’ve now hyped this film beyond far loftier accolades than it can ever hope to achieve from the unexpected. So please, go see this film, but do not expect it to reach you in the way that it did me, as that is the only way that it might. And if I’ve learned anything from this film, it’s never to underestimate where something can take you. That is the most pretentious, self-indulgent thing I’ve ever written. You’re welcome.
Choose film 9/10