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The Independent Critic

Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Paul Rudd, Joan Cusack
Stephen Chbosky
Rated PG-13
102 Mins.
Summit Entertainment
Audio Commentary w/Stephen Chbosky; Cast & Director Commentary; Deleted Scenes; Dailies; Trailer

 "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" One of 2012's Most Rewarding Surprises 
I've always been sort of a wounded mess, a good-hearted soul trapped inside the body and mind of a frequently broken and rejected and laughed at soul who has been loved one too many times in all the wrong ways. When I'm wallowing in my own woundedness, which I'm still prone to doing on occasion, I'm likely to openly spew forth such anti-sentiments as "I Can't be loved" and "I'm too damaged for anyone with an ounce of common sense."

Intellectually, of course, I know that I'm wrong. I know that I can be loved and I know that somewhere out there, likely in Budapest, there's someone capable of loving me through the brokenness. But, sometimes I simply can't escape the thoughts and the feelings and the life experiences that have turned me into this chaotic creation that I am.

There are those films that rattle the cages of your soul, they touch you in a place deep inside that may have been scarred over and scabbed over. These films, they have a way of picking away at the scabs and forcing you to come face-to-face with yourself once again whether you like it or not.

For me, Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower is such a film.

There is no film that has touched me as deeply as has The Perks of Being a Wallflower this year, yet to acknowledge this fact doesn't do justice to just how completely entertaining I found this cinematic experience. Written and directed by Stephen Chbosky, who also wrote the book upon which the film is based, The Perks of Being a Wallflower may very well touch you as deeply as it did me but it is also a film that will make you laugh and remember and rejoice and completely immerse yourself in what is unquestionably one of the best ensemble experiences to hit theaters in 2012.

The film begins with Charlie (Logan Lerman) writing a letter to an unnamed friend, a letter that instantly reveals the slightly tattered edges of a woundedness that will slowly be peeled away. This Charlie, the young man we are introduced to, is a young man who is determined to put his past behind him and to begin his freshman year in high school with a sense of hope and determination. Of course, Charlie is not just wounded. He's also intelligent, creative, quiet and painfully shy.

In other words, high school isn't going to be easy.

If this sounds like The Perks of Being a Wallflower is moving towards becoming yet another cinematic high school cliche', it's not. In fact, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of the most refreshingly honest and authentic and non-pretentious films to take place in a high school in quite some time. Things don't start off well for Charlie, but it plays out in a way that feels truthful and, thus, quite a bit more painful. It's only when he stumbles across the path of Patrick (Ezra Miller, We Need to Talk About Kevin) and Sam (Emma Watson, Hermione in the Harry Potter films), that he begins to make any semblance of a human connection. Patrick is a likable young man with a conflicted love life, while stepsister Sam possesses an even more conflicted past and a deceptively free-spirited approach to life. While Patrick and Sam have their wounds, they exist in a happier place because they have created for themselves a safe sanctuary of those they trust and love.

It isn't long before Sam gets a glimpse behind the mask that Charlie wears to survive daily life, a glimpse that leads to a surprisingly touching invitation to join "the island of misfit toys" or, in simpler terms, a welcome into the socially outcast group of misfits into which she and Patrick belong.

Logan Lerman has sort of existed on the verge of being a fine actor in such middling material as Percy Jackson & The Olympians, My One and Only and Hoot, the latter of which was the film that really introduced him to a wider audience. Lerman generally projects a fairly quiet aura, an aura that has occasionally become overwhelmed onscreen such as in The Three Musketeers. However, over the past few years he's shown tremendous growth as an actor and The Perks of Being a Wallflower is his finest work to date. So many actors would have chosen to play Charlie as more than a little pathetic, a downtrodden soul serving only as the recipient of merciful kindness from Patrick and Sam. Lerman, on the other hand, infuses Charlie with such a rich humanity and a brave facade that you can't help but fall completely in love with the guy. Lerman's Charlie is experiencing life as a wounded soul, but he is experiencing life and doing everything in his power to hang on. His pain hurts even more, because Lerman gives us a Charlie who is trying so damn hard in life and love and school and everything else. He knows he's wounded, and it's Lerman's ability to portray Charlie's conflicted perception of self that makes it such a wonderful performance.

If you had any doubt about Emma Watson's ability to move beyond Harry Potter, The Perks of Being a Wallflower should remove those doubts. Watson is absolutely luminous here, exuding a remarkable duality of sweetness and beauty and inner conflict and so much more. Watson's Sam is unquestionably Charlie's dream girl, but you only attract the love you believe you deserve and neither Sam nor Charlie can convince themselves that they deserve anything beyond the vacant expressions of love and affection they've always known. Watson exudes seemingly with ease Sam's free-spirited self and her quietly expressed doubts. The British actress, for the most part, even conquers the American accent with convincing and heartfelt results. There is one scene, in particular, that left me mesmerized by Watson - She's having a seemingly innocent conversation with Charlie when, out of nowhere, a deeply personal truth is revealed. The look on her face is astounding, a revelation of shock and heartbreak and compassion all rolled into one. The scene that follows is practically friendship defined.

As brilliant as are Lerman and Watson, the film's truly revelatory performance may very well come from Ezra Miller, whom some of you will remember from the criminally underseen We Need to Talk About Kevin, where Miller portrayed a handsome, young mass killer. To have witnessed Miller's performance in We Need to Talk About Kevin is to gain an even deeper appreciation for just how amazing his performance is in this film. As Patrick, Miller is warm and sympathetic and funny with hints of sadness and conflict and a little bit of rage.

The film is set in 1991, and Chbosky beautifully incorporates familiar pop culture references such as the Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Smiths, The Catcher in the Rye and others. Yet it does so in a way that feels, once again, authentic and real and true to the story that's unfolding. The music, while at times obvious, is well selected and furthers the story quite nicely.

Even the relatively bit parts are played well here, though one could potentially argue that Chbosky tries to fit a bit too much into the already complicated core story. Paul Rudd does a terrific job as a teacher who befriends Charlie, while Melanie Lynskey is appropriately jarring and yet ambiguous as Charlie's now deceased aunt with whom he still has regular conversations. Kate Walsh and Dylan McDermott are great as Charlie's parents, while Nina Dobrev shines as his sister. Horror legend Tom Savini even makes an appearance here in a fun bit as Charlie's shop teacher.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is that rare high school-themed film that actually isn't about high school. Instead, it's about a group of young people fumbling their way towards their next phase in life the best way they know how. Chbosky captures it all beautifully - the angst, the doubts, the fears, the fearlessness, the bad choices, the good choices, the laughs, the joys, the sorrows and everything else.

There is so much more that I could say about The Perks of Being a Wallflower. There are so many big and little moments that left me reflecting and laughing and crying and remembering and, at times, even breathless. There's so much more that I want to say, but it's also a film where the less said the better off you will be as you step into the theater. If you're wise, you will find yourself stepping inside the theater for this indie gem currently making its way through the indie/arthouse theatrical scene thanks to the folks at Summit Entertainment.

In addition to one of the best ensemble casts of 2012, The Perks of Being a Wallflower features intimate and revealing camera work from D.P. Andrew Dunn and, in addition to a killer soundtrack, a terrific original score from Michael Brook.

With honesty, authenticity, a lack of faux sentimentality and a sense of affection for its characters and all their glorious quirks, The Perks of Being a Wallflower celebrates the stories that make up our lives and the friends and loved ones who help us survive the journey.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic