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The Perks of Being a Wallflower

At first glance, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is no different than your typical angsty teenager movie. It features a cast of wacky kids who don’t really fit in with any particular clique, but find common ground in their differences—there’s the gay one, the unconventionally pretty one, the stoner, the goth, the shy one and more—but the film isn’t your run-of-the-mill teenager movie. It neither romanticizes nor demonizes the teenage years, but instead looks at them as what they are: a learning experience where children become adults and begin to discover themselves, find happiness and learn what’s truly important in life. The Perks of Being a Wallflower knows what it’s like to be a teenager, from the highs to the lows to everything in between, and it handles all of it delicately and deliberately. It’s one of the best of the year.

The film begins with Charlie (Logan Lerman), a friendless teenage boy who is entering high school for the first time. He’s a bright and loving kid, but has never found anyone outside of his family that is willing to accept him (as he says early on, he’s both happy and sad, wishing only to make a friend). However, he soon meets a senior named Patrick (Ezra Miller) who, for whatever reason, is stuck taking the freshman shop class. From there, he meets Patrick’s step sister, Sam (Emma Watson), along with a cast of eclectic characters who don’t care who he was or where he’s been. They just know that he’s a nice person and they instantly accept him into their group.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower could have gone incredibly wrong, but it somehow manages to do nearly everything right. The main character is lonely and friendless, but he’s not pathetic. The characters are archetypal, but they nevertheless feel real. The film is about teenage angst, but it’s never annoying. Instead, it’s a thoughtful study on what it’s like to be a teenager and all but those who coasted through their teenage years without a problem will be able to relate to it. The movie is also prophetic, but it’s never preachy. It expresses the thoughts of a teenager to beautiful effect, shown best in one scene when Charlie asks his English teacher, played wonderfully by Paul Rudd, why some wonderful people date bad people. His response is that we accept the love we think we deserve. Charlie responds, asking how someone could let that person know they deserve better, to which his teacher replies that you can’t really. You can only try. Anyone who has ever watched as their crush dated someone not good enough for them, someone who abused them or took them for granted, will find these scenes incredibly moving.

Here’s a film that knows how hard it can be for some people to make friends and how lucky we are to have them. It stresses their importance, in the way they shape our lives, influence our opinions and make us stronger. For example, Charlie never takes his newfound friends for granted. He understands his good fortune in finally finding them and will do anything to make them happy. His status as an outcast has, in a way, made him a stronger, better person than most will ever be. He never looks at the gay guy and sees him as a lesser person or the goth girl and thinks of her as weird. His timidity has nurtured a kindness in him that allows him to see past such trivial matters and into the real person underneath. He’s a wonderful character, one that is easy to root for, and the actor portraying him puts on a terrific show.

With that said, The Perks of Being a Wallflower isn’t perfect. It never really establishes a true place and time—it feels like it takes place in modern day, but the characters listen to records instead of CDs and write on typewriters instead of computers—some of the dialogue is frustratingly hipster, (which is, to be fair, indicative of many indie films) and one plot thread involving Charlie’s sister, Candace (Nina Dobrev), and her abusive boyfriend is never followed through, but despite its occasional stumble in these relatively minor areas, it succeeds where it needs to. Some of the darker plot turns are difficult to accept not because they’re out of place or unnecessary, but rather because the characters are so likable, you don’t want to see anything bad happen to them. The story and characters are relatable too, guaranteeing many of the film’s viewers will know what it’s like to feel the way they do. But the film’s intent isn’t to sadden or bring back memories from your teenage years you wish you could forget. It instead leaves you in a perpetual state of happiness, with a love and appreciation for those who love and appreciate you back, and with hope for every struggling kid who may be going through similar experiences at this very moment. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is for, but not limited to, them and it takes power away from unnecessary high school labels. When viewed from a different perspective, words like “popular” and “wallflower” take on a completely different meaning.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower receives 4.5/5


We Need to Talk About Kevin

Now that the awards season has come and gone, it’s time to look back on what the Academy may have overlooked when deciding who and what was good enough to be up for an Oscar. The first film that comes to mind is Nicolas Winding Refn’s brilliant Drive, which found itself left out of the Best Picture category despite critical praise (and the fact that only 9 of the 10 Best Picture slots were filled this year). Another notable snub, at least according to those who had seen it prior to the show, was Tilda Swinton for Best Actress in We Need to Talk About Kevin. Having finally seen it with its DC release right around the corner, I have to join those who scoffed at the idea of her not nabbing a nomination. A fearless actress in any role, she is downright brilliant here. One could argue over whether or not she deserved to win when up against other spectacular performances like Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady or Michelle Williams in My Week with Marilyn, but to not even give her a nomination is, quite frankly, insane. But We Need to Talk About Kevin is more than just a performance. It’s a damn fine film in its own right that is mesmerizing, haunting and eerie.

The film opens giving little information. It intercuts between past and present, from a time when Eva (Tilda Swinton) met her soon-to-be-husband Franklin (John C. Reilly) through the birth of their son Kevin (played by three different actors, the oldest version by Ezra Miller) and to the aftermath of a tragic event that has taken place. That event serves as the film’s central mystery and though you know it wasn’t pretty, you don’t know what happened and certain early moments in the film manage to confuse even more. Eva runs into a random woman on the sidewalk, for instance, who slaps her and tells her she hopes she rots in Hell. Then a young man in a wheelchair calls her over and tells her that his doctors say he may be able to walk again one day. All of these events are connected, but the how is left intentionally vague.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is a tough movie, both thematically and structurally, to sit through, and it demands that you pay attention and start fitting the pieces together. Without some heavy thought, motivations and reasoning will be left unexplained. This isn’t a film that tells you everything. You have to discover it yourself, a refreshing change to be sure. Eventually, however, the movie slows down and the shifts between the two time periods become less frequent, making it much easier to become invested in what’s happening. You begin to really learn about Kevin and Eva and when the mystery is revealed (if you haven’t already figure it out beforehand, which is a good possibility), these moments put it into perspective.

Kevin was a detached child, seemingly evil to the core, and he treated his mother like garbage. He tormented her and got a sick pleasure out of it, showing resentment even while still in diapers. He used her when he had to, like when he was sick and needed someone to take care of him. He destroys one of her rooms when she has her back turned and then he fools his father into thinking he did it out of love. He is a disturbed person and the film gets that point across crystal clear. His motivation for those acts isn’t necessarily explained, but some behavior simply can’t be explained. Even as a baby, when he was far too young to know what he was doing, he cried and screamed constantly, but only when he was with Eva. The film makes the point that some behavior is so deeply rooted in us there’s nothing we can do to change it, a frightening, but certainly interesting notion.

Eva isn’t so happy herself either. When she tries to play with Kevin and he doesn’t respond, she becomes frustrated. When he won’t stop crying, she gets so annoyed that the sound of a construction site jackhammer gives her some peace. In the present day, after the mysterious event, she is isolated, shunned and disillusioned, the latter expressed beautifully with blurry visual cues. She has her own demons to fight, a metaphor expressed perhaps a bit too literally when trick-or-treaters circle her car when driving home on Halloween night.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is a great movie that could nevertheless stand to be trimmed up a bit. A nearly two hour runtime isn’t overly long by any means, but Kevin’s early years are stretched thin. At a certain point, you get it. You understand that Kevin is a troubled kid and wish for the movie to move along. When it finally does, it’s gripping to the end and that slight loss of momentum becomes easily forgivable.

We Need to Talk About Kevin receives 4/5