Combustible Celluloid
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With: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Mae Whitman, Paul Rudd, Dylan McDermott, Kate Walsh, Nina Dobrev, Johnny Simmons, Melanie Lynskey, Paul Rudd, Joan Cusack, Julia Garner, Tom Savini
Written by: Stephen Chbosky, based on his book
Directed by: Stephen Chbosky
MPAA Rating: PG-13 on appeal for mature thematic material, drug and alcohol use, sexual content including references, and a fight - all involving teens
Running Time: 103
Date: 09/08/2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Wilting 'Flower'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It always strikes me how so many of the coming-of-age movies are the same. They're always focused on some sensitive outsider in a bizarre world populated by quirky, charming misfits. The lead character usually grows up to become a talented author, who then writes about his childhood friends. The trouble is that none of these movies seem to be about the pain or pleasure of growing up, but are mostly about misty memories of growing up. And oftentimes, these misty memories have mingled with memories of movies.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower isn't bad, but it also doesn't transcend this problem. Stephen Chbosky wrote the book, and then adapted the screenplay and directed the movie, too. He has some nice touches and makes nice use of the passing seasons, but can't ever manage to tap into the universal center of the story.

Charlie (Logan Lerman) is the main outsider, though the actor is far too handsome to pass as one. His dad (Dylan McDermott) thinks he's a weenie, and when he hits high school, he lands with a thud. He makes his first connection with an English teacher, Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd), who loans Charlie a series of great books. He eventually spots someone who might be a kindred soul, a loony rebel called Patrick (Ezra Miller, the creepy kid from We Need to Talk About Kevin), who then introduces Charlie to his stepsister, the lovely Sam (Emma Watson).

Though they're seniors and Charlie's a freshman, he falls for Sam and carries his crush throughout the year, while becoming a member of their little group. He gets high for the first time, and experiences The Rocky Horror Picture Show and a kind of sexual awakening when he suddenly finds himself in a surprise relationship with Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman). He has a falling out with his new tribe, and there are subplots about gay romance, and straight, abusive romance. There's even a surprise subplot about abusive family members (with the brave and wonderful Melanie Lynskey taking on this thankless role).

Chbosky balances mildly funny with warmly wistful throughout and keeps the movie on an even keel, without ever burrowing deeper. It helps that the actors form a tribe-like chemistry with each other and seem comfortable together. Good casting helps, and people like Joan Cusack and make-up legend Tom Savini flesh out smaller parts with potency. But the truly great coming-of-age stories -- like The 400 Blows, Stand by Me, etc. -- remember vividly how amplified everything is at that age, how the slightest wound stings like a thousand hornets, and how the smallest victory feels like a thousand butterflies. Though Wallflower smells sweet, it needed more thorns.

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