The Perks of Being Ezra Miller
REPEAT OFFENDER: The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
THE REVIEW: I saw The Perks of Being a Wallflower before I read the book, so I had different expectations than fans of the book may have. I really had no idea what I was going into, but I like Emma Watson and the movie was getting good reviews. Despite trimming much of the book’s less vital traumatic content, this movie is not the teen romp I was expecting. And I loved it.
To start off, this movie is extremely well cast. Logan Lerman’s unassuming portrayal of Charlie is what allows the audience to care about him, and, thus, the web of drama around him. However, like Shanghai Noon, this movie was stolen by the supporting actor. Ezra Miller, who plays Patrick, quickly steals the show. And rightly so. His humor keeps the movie from being too much of a melodrama and his charm and exuberance are a perfect foil for the titular wallflower, Charlie. Emma Watson breathes life into the book’s somewhat bland Sam, making her seem like an integral, fleshed out character, rather than a catalyst for the plot. Bill, Mary Elizabeth, Helen, Charlie’s sister, and all of the other supporting characters hold their own in this quirky yet poignant character-driven story.
While it was largely necessary for a two hour movie, the excellent casting and acting did make it a shame that much of the plot and sub-plots were cut: the rape at the party, Bill’s girlfriend, Charlie’s extended family and all of the baggage there (including much of Helen’s motivation/characterization), Patrick’s depression/alcoholism, pretty much all of Charlie’s sister’s arc, Michael’s girlfriend, etc. Again, all of this might have bogged the movie down, but the book did have a great deal more to say about the cycle of violence, which I found fascinating.
I do really wish that the scene in the car with Charlie’s siblings could have been included in the movie, since I got mental whiplash reading it. For those who have not read the book, Charlie’s sister has been in a secret relationship with a boy her parents forced her not to see again after Charlie’s teacher informed them that the boy in question had physically abused her. The three children and their parents are in the car and Charlie’s brother is talking about his new girlfriend at college, Kelly. Kelly is described as a hot cheerleader and Charlie’s sister starts dismissing her for being vapid, dumb, and generally supporting the patriarchy. Charlie’s brother says that Kelly is a philosophy major who is very passionate about the same political issues that Charlie’s sister subscribes to.
In a fit of anger, Charlie’s brother snaps that Kelly is the real feminist because at least she wouldn’t put up with a man hitting her. This statement is the shot heard round the world and the car goes silent. Charlie’s dad is furious and Charlie’s brother apologizes. But it has been said. And it is true, backed up by the fact that Kelly does break up with Charlie’s brother when she finds out he’s been cheating on her and it takes a great deal more for Charlie’s sister to break up with her boyfriend.
This scene hit me like a ton of bricks in the best way. It was raw commentary on Charlie’s sister, as well as society, 90s feminism, and how women perceive each other. This issue remains unsettling and largely unresolved at the end of the book, which only makes it more thought-provoking. Another scene like that is a much subtler offhand remark made by Patrick, while in a drunken depression. He asks Charlie if he ever wonders whether the only difference between them and the popular kids is what they wear and why they wear it. This is never brought up again, leaving it for the reader to ruminate on.
Another change is the music. Music is prominently featured in the book, which has an almost proto-Hipster feel to it. Mix tapes are being distributed left and right, the characters discuss music at Big Boy, every party or dance is judged by its music and social drama, Charlie considers working as a deejay, his mental breakdowns and bad trips generally involve a fixation on music or lyrics, and nearly every drive features music on the radio. Music remains a fixture in the movie, setting the tone, and taking on special meaning in the form of Charlie’s fateful present. However, it takes much more of a backseat than in the book.
THE CONTROVERSY: While I have not heard of any specific controversy or censorship surrounding the movie, likely those who object to the book will be similarly ruffled. This movie does deal with mental illness, sexual abuse, gay bashing, abusive relationships, and many other issues. However, as stated above, some of the more controversial elements have been left out.
There is no abortion or pregnancy, no rape at the party, and no mention of an abusive childhood for Helen and Charlie’s mom. Similarly, there is a great deal less drug use and sexual content. It’s probably still too much for some, but it’s nothing compared to the book. I wonder how much of this was left out for time and how much was to make the movie more palatable to a broader audience. Either way, both the book and the movie will certainly spark their share of discussion and debate.
To sum up, the movie is a charmingly off-beat look at adolescence and the nature of human relationships with a stellar cast and a surprisingly heartwarming message for all its arresting honesty.
To find out more about the book, the movie, and the music, visit:
UPDATE: I was not aware of any film controversy at the time of this review. However, I have since learned that the graphic and emotionally loaded nature of the book made most studios balk at a film adaptation. Emma Watson had to personally campaign for the project and throw her weight around in order for the film to become a reality.