20 9 / 2012
I have two confessions to make about The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which opens this Friday in New York and LA and next Friday in about a dozen more U.S. cities (and then, I hope, more beyond those - like Reno, the one-art-theater town where I grew up).
Confession #1: I had not yet read Perks when the editor of OUT asked me to write about it, but I was flattered and felt he was correct in assuming that I would have. (I don’t really know how I missed it except that in 1999, when the novel came out, I was in my 1st year post-college working in New York City.)
Confession #2: When I first saw the film - about a week after getting the assignment and quickly reading the book, twice - in a tiny screening room at Lionsgate’s offices in Santa Monica, I was pretty sure it was good (and that Ezra Miller was very, very good). I was sure enough to know I absolutely needed to talk to Stephen Chbosky, the author of the book and writer/director of the film. Everyone I interviewed (Chbosky and three of the film’s actors) seemed sweetly, sincerely moved by the experience of making the film and its source material. But when you see a film knowing you have to write a lot about it, and around it, and that you basically only have the one screening to figure out everything you have to say about it - it’s hard not to feel like you’re cramming for a test.
For a month or so after filing the piece, I worried a little in the back of my head that maybe the movie was good, but just good, that the performances were adequate, but not great. I always try to temper praise in a reported piece but it’s very easy to be seduced by the charisma of stars and the magic of movie-making - and I’m a naturally (and unabashedly) enthusiastic writer to begin with. Would the movie hold up to what I’d said? Would it warrant, in retrospect, being on the cover of the magazine?
When I got to see the film with a real theater full of fans - at the screening OUT did with Lionsgate and Outfest last month - I very quickly realized something super obvious: THIS MOVIE IS ACTUALLY GREAT. Like, truly and stunningly great. All of the performances were more complex than I’d remembered. It’s funnier in a lot of places than the book - especially with an audience - and also more affecting in its moments of joyous self-expression. Which helps because when shit gets really real for the characters, you will cry your face off.
Here’s one more reason you should go: Stephen Chbosky is one of the nicest, most generous people I have ever met. Not only did he spend several nights talking at length with me, he gave me a kind of cheat sheet for speaking with each actor - how to direct them into a good interview, basically. And then he thanked me repeatedly for my time. And then showered me with a truly embarrassing level of praise for what I had written. And then emailed me out of the blue this week to thank me again. (My response was basically: Are you sure you’re a real person?)
Sometimes, living in L.A., surrounded by and working in and adjacent to the entertainment industry, it’s hard to believe that nice, generous, sincerely talented people ever truly get to make exactly the kind of art they want. Perks, and Chbosky, reminded me sometimes the exception wins the day.
Tonight I’ve been going through and reading the reviews, which I will also confess I was kind of nervous about. I don’t know why. They’re very strong. I’m going to collect a few in this post and maybe edit in a few others for posterity as they show up.
What other people say about Perks:
A grade. In high school movies, everyone is looking for someone to date; friendship is what’s taken for granted. (Even the nerds have it.) The Perks of Being a Wallflower, a graceful and beguiling drama adapted from Stephen Chbosky’s 1999 novel (Chbosky wrote and directed the film himself), gently flips that pattern on its head… those friends include Patrick, a kind of teenage Oscar Wilde played by the mesmerizing Ezra Miller.
...a smartly observed study of a troubled teen’s first year in high school… Chbosky trusts his audience to understand the subtext of moments without throwing in a lot of unnecessary explanations. That requires a more nuanced level of acting and the core cast is very adept at pulling it off. Lerman gives Charlie the look of a young colt still trying to get his legs, the awkwardness never overplayed. Watson seems to relish a chance to play a teenager whose only powers are to be smart, sensitive and crush-worthy — she makes sure Sam hits all those notes. But it is Miller, so chilling opposite Tilda Swinton in “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” who gives the minutiae that consume teen conversations some much appreciated jolts of electricity. He gets better with every role.Let me know if you see any other good ones?
My own confessions and reasons: I hadn’t read it before either, was probably just a couple of years too old and too busy figuring young adulthood to want to revisit teenagehood just yet. This movie simultaneously makes you feel all those things, good and bad, that high school felt like, and makes you feel better for having lived through them. It resonated for me differently than it would for teenagers seeing it or reading the book now, but sometimes even in your mid-30’s you need a little reminder of what you’ve been through, and that you can, and will still need to, get through things.
27 8 / 2012
"Ezra’s crazy-ish,” says Chbosky, “in the most beautiful and benevolent way you could ever be. I really, truly believe that he can go wherever he wants to go. The only question is where he wants to go. And that’s entirely up to Ezra. He has the talent to be one of the preeminent actors of his generation. He’s also a wonderful musician. He’s also a wonderful artist. And something of a wanderer. I wouldn’t be surprised if by the end of his career, Ezra won three Oscars. Or if he ended up writing a book about his five years traveling on the roads. He’s that kind of a free spirit."
Chbosky on Ezra (via weneedtotalkaboutezramiller)
he just loves him so much :’)
22 8 / 2012
I saw the Perks of Being A Wallflower yesterday.
I thought it was going to be complete shit, but I was happy it wasn’t. This was probably due to the fact that the screenplay was written and the film was directed by Stephen Chbosky. He actually said that he wrote a different version of the screenplay that had every scene in the book, but that the movie would have been 12+ hours. Even with all the cuts made, the film struck right at home and I cried twice.
I really enjoyed the movie. I highly reccomend it if you’ve read the book. Give it a shot. It was almost like finally getting to meet Charlie.
Below is a photo of me with Stephen Chbosky. He was a great guy. He said he wrote the book in college in less than a year. The published version is the third draft he wrote. Blame the blurriness of the photo on my jittery friend Jonathan.
And this is a photo of me with Ezra Miller. I have heard great things about his performance in We Need to Talk About Kevin, which I have been planning to watch. Seeing his performance as Patrick last night really makes me want to watch We Need to Talk About Kevin.
you got a super cute pic with Ezra!
17 8 / 2012
Setting aside the vanity link factor—a think piece about my story!—I found this Hollywood Reporter article an excellent and thoughtful approach to what exactly is a “coming out” story these days.
I didn’t approach my interview with Ezra as a “coming out interview.” As I told The Huffington Post, I wasn’t actually sure he was headed in that direction, despite what is one of the most charming voicemail messages I’ve ever been left: “I’m excited to talk to you about being out of the closet. It sounds fun.”
Here’s the actual exchange from the phone interview:
OUT: So you were a gay little opera kid, and then you had a girlfriend who made you read Perks. How do you describe your sexuality now?
Ezra Miller: I’m queer.
Then he stopped talking, because he was done answering the question.
After a few long seconds of silence (during which, I’ll admit, I barely suppressed the unprofessional urge to say OMG ME TOO!), I asked him what he called “the boyfriend/girlfriend/zefriend type of question” about whether he was dating anyone, for which had a far more complicated answer. Both of those sections ended up deep into the story, as THR correctly calls out, because in the bigger picture of a book that became a movie (and a cover that featured not just Ezra but two other talented young men), it wasn’t the whole story.
I can’t really count how many times I’ve asked someone a variation of “describe your sexuality.” It’s been my default for maybe 7 or 8 years, since I finally figured out that if I asked something more nuanced than a yes/no, gay/straight question, I was far more likely to get an fascinating answer.
As a journalist you have to ask the question. Ask any question that’s not easy or apologetic or reductive. Then you have to ask a follow-up—or 15. (I’m not saying it’s easy—read this excellent essay from the NYT writer who didn’t ask Frank Ocean about his songs’ pronouns.)
As THR says, Perks was an incredibly influential book for LGBTQ teens—and is one of the most banned books in America as a result. And yet this is the answer I got when I asked the author/filmmaker about his sexuality:
Stephen Chbosky: I’m basically a straight boy. What’s funny is that because I’m a straight dude, I’ve literally never been asked that question.
Ezra Miller knows what’s up.
I have a lot of feelings about Perks. I am lucky enough that I do not have to say that Perks saved my life. As a queer youth, I had a much better support system than a lot of people. But it was still a very unique feeling, before I was really out, when my good friend looked in my eye and said, “You need to read this book.” She was right, and it was a strange feeling to be known.
Perks was also very important to me because of Pittsburgh. People who know me know that I have a very strange relationship to the sense of place, and an especially strange relationship with Pittsburgh. It is like, this pretty mythical place for me. So to have this story that got me, set in a place that I have always been so connected to was super powerful.
When they are going through the tunnel, and coming out the other side and crossing the bridge and seeing downtown, I could read that and know it, because for me that has always been like, the opening ceremonies of being in Pittsburgh. It is a powerful experience.
So I am 16, and I am reading this book that knows me.
And now I am 23 and I am waiting on a movie that seems to be populated by people who also know me. It is still a powerful experience. And I am excited.
reblogging for lovely commentary.
16 8 / 2012
"I wanted to make a movie that celebrated a kid’s life at the same time that it celebrated any adult’s nostalgia. I think that we forget a lot of the pain and remember a lot of the good things. But I wanted to validate the totality of their experience. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to give them one more piece of hope to go and build a better life."
thank you to everyone who sent such wonderful sweet tweets and emails and reblogs and made photosets and posts with quotes from the OUT article. my heart is kind of bursting with all the things i want to say and ask and respond to from today.
in 1991-1992, the school year when perks is set, i was a high school freshman, just like charlie is in the book & film. it’s hard looking back to be sure how happy i was vesus how miserable, and i think chbosky is right that maybe you can never separate out that hollywood-ized nostalgia from the terrifying certainty that no one at school would ever talk to you again if they knew how different you really were.
mostly what i remember was how determined i was to get the fuck out of my town and go make something of myself in the real world. wherever that was, whatever that meant, i was sure it had to be better. and it was.
but i didn’t become some other person who is nothing like i was at 15. i just became myself. things got better, and then worse, and then better again. some days are good and some days are awful. i don’t think 20 years ago i would have believed i could be as intensely happy as i am with my wife, mostly because it was tough to imagine then that someone could know everything about me and actually love me more for that.
more to come thursday - and you can always ask me anything.
now we get to be silly teenagers together forever. it’s pretty sweet.