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.