Ahoy, squirts! Quint here, taking a break from Fantastic Fest catch-up to talk about a decidedly un-Fantastic Fest style movie, the teen coming of age flick THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER.
For me, 2012 is officially the year of surprising turns from previously written-off actors. I’m calling it. First Channing Tatum turned in his first leading performance where he didn’t look confused and bored in 21 Jump Street, then Garrett Hedlund and Kristen Stewart both proved they had personality in On the Road and now Logan Lerman pushes aside his recent incredibly shitty run of Percy Jackson and PWSA’s The Three Musketeers and turns in subtle, empathetic performance in Perks.
Perks is definitely a performance-driven film. Not to take away from author/screenwriter/director Stephen Chbosky’s work, but this story depends heavily on us, the audience, buying the friendship and romance between a small group of high school outcasts. That’s kind of a staple of this kind of coming of age story, actually. John Hughes’ work wouldn’t have been as effective had he not found his red-headed muse, for instance.
The biggest hurdle this film has to overcome is making the audience buy that Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller would have been dorks in high school. Watson in particular had a lot to prove here because one glace at her looks and one sampling of her outgoing personality add up to most-popular-girl-in-school to me.
Let’s just put it this way, I wasn’t personally ostracized in high school, but nobody would ever confuse me for being a popular kid and I sure as shit didn’t have Hermione in my circle of friends.
Knowing little about the source material going in I was pleasantly surprised that all three leads were able to strike that perfect damaged-but-in-a-realistic-way note that we need to believe these pretty people don’t fit in with their peers.
On paper, Lerman gets the most time exploring his hang ups. We know he’s seen much tragedy in his young life, but he’s not doing the typical kind of acting out. He’s withdrawn. His family seems to walk on eggshells around him, he’s starting high school which is traumatic anyway, but he’s doing it without a single friend.
He gravitates towards this counter-culture brother/sister team (Miller and Watson), pulled in by Miller’s cult of personality and then kept in place by his sheer attraction to Watson. And I don’t just mean physical attraction. There’s that spark to this girl that Watson does a brilliant job of creating that makes her at once vulnerable and empowered. We’ve all known girls like Sam and most of us guys have crushed real hard on girls like Sam.
The supporting cast is also strong here. Paul Rudd gets to be that awesome teacher that inspires the more creative of his students, Tom Savini pops up as the angry shop teacher, Johnny Simmons plays against type a bit as the school jock, Melanie Lynskey gets to do… well, something different… as Aunt Helen and Mae Whitman plays the nightmare girlfriend perfectly (trust me on this one, I know this character well).
The drama to this movie isn’t anything new, but these characters bring some new life to a well-used story. Chbosky’s direction isn’t flashy, but gets the job done. He lets the story unfold at the pace set by the characters, which is probably the best decision he could have made as a director.
One other thing I want to point out before wrapping up is that I think Chbosky unintentionally cast the perfect remake of The Rocky Horror Picture Show in this movie. Doing the interactive Rocky Horror midnights is one of the things this group takes part in and seeing Ezra Miller as Frank and Emma Watson as Janet was a bit of a “Holy shit, that would actually work” lightning bolt. In the scene, Lerman has to step in to play Rocky, but he’d be a great Brad, too. Just sayin’.
Okay, where was I? Ah, yes. The wrap up. Okay, so listen. This kind of movie isn’t really seen these days in the wide-release market. It’s a charming, quiet coming of age drama that is deeply engrossing and doesn’t play to the cheap seats. Usually in order to watch movies that strike that tone you have to attend a few film festivals and be willing to sit through a whole bunch of pretentious shit to find something like this. So, be thankful we have this kind of storytelling as an option in theaters this weekend.
It’s a good fall film season so far. The Master, Looper, End of Watch, Perks… there’s a good crop of flicks out right now. I hear Hotel Transylvania is good, too, as is Pitch Perfect, but I have yet to catch those. Let’s keep our fingers crossed this trend keeps up!