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Capone's Art-House Round-Up with Stephen Chbosky's THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER and DIANA VREELAND: THE EYE HAS TO TRAVEL!!!

Hey, folks. Capone in Chicago here, with a few films that are making their way into art houses or coming out in limited release around America this week (maybe even taking up one whole screen at a multiplex near you). Do your part to support these films, or at least the good ones…

So few writers get high school students right. I grew up in a time when John Hughes seemed to have a new film coming out every year, so it took me awhile to realize this simple fact. Teens are often written as mini-adults with fully formed personalities packed inside a trendy outfit. But the way I remember these formative years was as a bundle of raw emotion and nerves... inside a trendy outfit. At at the end of my miserable freshman year, I became friends with a group of upperclassmen/women in the drama department, and my whole outlook about high school turned around. I never read author Stephen Chbosky's THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, but imagine my surprise watching the film he adapted and directed based on the wildly popular autobiographical novel.

The film follows the adventures of Charlie (Logan Lerman), who's having a tough time being a freshman. He largely just sits quietly, not participating in class, and doing as much work as is necessary to get good grades. For a while at least, his only friend is his English teacher Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd), and that makes him even more depressed. But one day at a football game, Charlie meets step-siblings Patrick (Ezra Miller, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN) and Sam (Emma Watson, who shines brightly in her first post-HARRY POTER role), and the three latch onto each other for dear life, along with a few other outcast classmates.

The various trials and tribulations of these misfits aren't important. THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER is a celebration of friendship and good people, and if you're too jaded or cynical to still appreciate that, I'm sad for you. Sure, there is the occasional bully issue (Patrick is openly gay and secretly dating a ferociously closeted jock, which isn't good for anyone; Sam has a reputation for sleeping with a lot boys, probably because she did at one time), but for the most part, the movie is about taking care of one another, friends getting though tough times, and the group experience known as THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW.

But Charlie treads a darker path that keeps him from standing up for himself or simply saying no. For a brief time, he dates group member Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman), who essentially declares herself his girlfriend, plans their relationship, and never stops talking. Charlie is a classic pushover, but he also responds strangely to the way Mary Elizabeth touches him, and it takes some painful looks into his memories to understand why.

Of course, Mary Elizabeth may not be his cup of tea because he's hopelessly in love with Sam (as I'm sure most of you will be). There's a scene in the film where she realizes that Charlie has never kissed a girl before, and although she seems not to be interested in dating him, she wants his first kiss to be with someone he loves... so she plants one on him... you know, like friends do. It's the kind of perfect moment that I'm sure every teenager has had or wishes they had.

I'll admit, I was surprised at how much WALLFLOWER moved me, but Chbosky's secret is so simple — he remains honest in his storytelling, keeps his characters expressive and vulnerable, and keeps enough ghosts around to give everyone something to fear and overcome — to varying degrees of success. Both Lerman and Miller are as good as I've ever seen them (especially Lerman, whose lead roles in PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS and THE THREE MUSKETEERS were not inspiring in any way), but it's Watson who bring power and light to the film. Sam is a damaged young woman who hides this fact by simply acting like she's not, and it works for her somehow. As much as I liked the HARRY POTTER films, I would never have singled Watson out as the reason why. But here, she presents herself as a normal attractive girl who cares more for her friends than any boyfriend she could ever have, and that makes us wondering which we'd rather be.

The greatest compliment you could pay any writer or filmmaker is by telling them that you never wanted their story to end, and that's exactly how I felt about THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER. The performances, the way the filmmakers makes his native Pittsburgh look downright homey, and the staggeringly good '80s soundtrack all flooded my heart and made me want to know where all of these radiant souls are today. I'm slightly desperate to see what Chbosky has for us next as both a writer and director; he seems beautifully suited to both.

There's a moment in the informative and sometimes very amusing documentary DIANA VREELAND: THE EYE HAS TO TRAVEL when the late high priestess of fashion tells a childhood story about Charles Lindbergh flying over her childhood home on his way to cross the Atlantic. A red bullshit flag popped up in my head as I made a mental note to investigate that claim further, but I didn't need to because later in the film, someone does it for me. What is revealed in the telling of that story is not that the highly influential Vreeland was a liar; it was that she would exaggerate and manipulate the truth because in her mind, that's the way things should have happened in her exciting, glamorous life.

But I'm fairly certain most of what is presented in this film is true, including the details (relayed to us by Vreeland herself through extensive talk show appearances and in-depth interviews) of her 50 years as one of the true style makers in the world as the fashion editor for Harper's Bazaar and later Vogue. She had an unprecedented knack for selecting the best models, photographers, clothing and settings to display the latest styles. But the life that led up to that was a sad one, in which her mother would constantly refer to her as the ugly duckling when compared to her more traditionally cute sister. Perhaps in an act of overcompensation, she aligned herself with fashion experts in Paris (including Coco Chanel).

During this course of watching THE EYE HAS TO TRAVEL, I couldn't help but become mesmerized by Vreeland's raspy but soothing voice. I was a voice that carried with it an authority on all subjects. And her work backed her up. She wasn't a designer, but she understood the fundamentals of design, when to ahere to them, and when to destroy them. Her influence stretched from the roaring '20s until the early days of the early '60s, and director Lisa Immordino Vreeland (grandaughter-in-law to her subject, although the two never met) gives us plenty of examines of her impact on the fashion wold.

THE EYE HAS TO TRAVEL is a colorful, spirited movie filled with stories of a time when a fashion editor first became a celebrity. We are drawn into her world, fall in love with Vreeland's exaggerated personality, and are impressed with her many accomplishments—real and imagined.

-- Steve Prokopy
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Readers Talkback
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  • Sept. 29, 2012, 6:15 a.m. CST

    Good Reviews Capone

    by mukhtabi

    Pretty much exactly my sentiments on both the Book and the Movie of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Seek the novel out, it's even richer in the written form!

  • Sept. 30, 2012, 12:58 a.m. CST

    Wallflowers is wonderful.

    by MrPaisley

    I had heard good things, and having not read the novel, I rolled the dice. Glad I did. All the points you make are spot on. It's well written. You care about the characters...even the minor ones. Watson is perfect. And yes, the soundtrack is filled with gems. I loved it.