DVD Review - The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Logan Lerman (left) and Emma Watson
in "The Perks of Being a Wallflower"
Stephen Chbosky wrote and directed this film, based on his own book. For his efforts, he won the Spirit Award for Best First Feature. He won Favorite Dramatic Movie at the People's Choice Awards. He was nominated for a WGA Award and a GLAAD Media Award. The National Board of Review also honored The Perks of Being a Wallflower as being one of 2012's Top Films. It's a sweet story. It's funny with really good performances from the young actors doing good work, but there are some issues with it that slightly derail it. There are some things that are clearly better used in the book or there are some things that aren't clear that are probably better explained in the book, but I was left with a lot of questions and confusions, as well as hollow feelings. It does have a storyline that is comparable to Silver Linings Playbook, but better handled. It's a minor or sleight storyline that wasn't enough to overcome the ending, which I didn't enjoy. Yet, this might be the first time that a movie's DVD commentary redeems the film and keeps me from thinking less of it. The DVD commentary actually elevated the movie for me and kept me from dismissing the whole thing.

Logan Lerman (3:10 to Yuma and Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief) stars as Charlie who starts his first day at Mill Grove High School. He's a freshman who has strangely become an outcast. He walks alone in the hallways. No one wants to sit next to him at lunch. He's not a nerd or a geek. He's smart but he doesn't show it. He's not a jock, so maybe that's hurt him, but he is a good-looking boy. It's not clear why he's an outcast. He doesn't seem to involve himself in any extracurricular activities. His only passion is writing and making mixtapes, literal mixtapes on cassettes because this movie takes place a decade or so in the past, but you don't see him applying that passion in any official outlet. He doesn't join the school newspaper or yearbook. He does form a bond with his English teacher, Mr. Anderson, played by Paul Rudd (Clueless and I Love You, Man), but it's not that big a deal. Charlie enjoys writing essays for Mr. Anderson's class but other than that, he takes no active steps in building that writing passion.

Charlie narrates the film and at the end it's possibly revealed that his narration are letters he types on his Christmas gift of a typewriter to someone titled "Dear Friend." Yet, it's not clear if "Dear Friend" is just a writing exercise or if he's actually writing to a real person. The narration is fine and I understand the film is all from Charlie's point-of-view, but I would have preferred to see certain relationships than be told about them.

Ezra Miller (City Island and We Need to Talk About Kevin) plays Patrick, a senior who's gay. Patrick befriends Charlie at a football game. It's revealed that Patrick loves football. He conforms to and subverts a lot of stereotypes, but a relationship that Patrick has is told with narration when I would have preferred to have seen that relationship actually depicted. Miller and Johnny Simmons (Evan Almighty and Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World), the actor who plays his boyfriend, Brad, are so good that they convey so much without the depiction.

Being that the movie is in Charlie's p.o.v., I forgive not seeing Patrick and Brad's relationship. What I don't forgive is the relationship between Charlie and his aunt. We see flashbacks as memories of Charlie and his aunt, which either are ominous or endearing. They all hint at something that happened when Charlie was a little boy that supremely affected him. Chbosky never says what that something is. It might be stated in the book, but it isn't stated in the film, not explicitly. Given the limited images and coded language, I can assume that it was probably sexual abuse, but I can't be sure, which I don't understand. Chbosky is so direct, specifically in his narration prior like Patrick's secret gay relationship that I don't get why he wouldn't be direct about Charlie and his aunt's secret relationship.

There are some great bits otherwise as we watch Charlie with his small circle of friends. There are great bits with Sam, played by Emma Watson (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone), Charlie's potential girlfriend, as well as with Mary Elizabeth, played by Mae Whitman (Arrested Development and In Treatment), Charlie's actual girlfriend in what is the funniest section of the film. Again, a lot of it is sweet and genuinely funny, probably because the majority of this film is genuine or feels immensely so.

Yet, the film is derailed because of this hinted relationship between Charlie and his aunt. It just creates a big hole into which everything falls. I just couldn't feel good about this movie by the end, but then the strangest thing happened. Because I didn't understand the relationship between Charlie and his aunt and because I was curious, I decided to listen to the DVD commentary for clarity.

There are two commentary tracks. One has writer-director Stephen Chbosky by himself. The other has him and five of his actors: Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller, Emma Watson, Mae Whitman and Johnny Simmons. Even though the second commentary is typical of commentaries that are love fests and everyone giving compliments to each other, the overall impression it leaves elevates whatever negative thoughts I had and Chbosky's final words in particular were the sweetest and most tender words I've ever heard uttered in a commentary.

Four Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for drug and alcohol use, sexual references and a fight involving all teens.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 42 mins.


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