Tuesday, 2 October 2012


It comes down to more than just this but you know when one small thing in a film causes it to instantly lose you? That.

Set in a Pittsburgh of indeterminate year, the film sets up our teenage misfit protagonists as musos; outsiders whose lives are punctuated by key songs that define moments. They listen to Nick Drake and use obscure songs by The Smiths as tonal shorthand for us to realise how deep they are. They make wilfully clued-in mixtapes and comment about how great it is when Dexys Midnight Runners get played at a lame disco. These kids, these precociously switched-on lyrical brats, hear Heroes by David Bowie on a magical car journey and none of them know what it is.
Is their non-recognition them being achingly hip and oh-so arch? Acknowledging the fact that it’s among the best known songs by an instantly recognisable artist and scoffing at how pointedly it underscores their position? They must know the song, right? Nope. Turns out they don't and it becomes a poignant plot point that they uncover the obscure recording artist behind this little heard track.
It might seem like a small point but it encapsulates the problems of the film. It’s so focused on what looks or sounds cool within a scene that it forgets whether or not it distracts from what matters.
So long is spent on establishing the outsider status of our heroes that they make up for in affectations what they lose in characterisation. You've got Ezra Miller's acid-tongued, gay Patrick (who expresses his sexuality through on-stage, dragged up sing-alongs of The Rocky Horror Picture Show); Emma Watson's surface level, seemingly together Sam who is actually a whole mess of turbulence underneath; and central character Charlie, played by Logan Lerman, who we're informed has a history of tragedy in both his family and social life and has previously suffered a breakdown.
It’s a potent mix for a film with this demographic and Miller and Lerman’s performances are particularly good. A supporting cast, which includes Paul Rudd as a warmly influential teacher and Pittsburgh local hero Tom Savini, help scatter the film with individual charming scenes but never really help coax it onwards. Ultimately the teenage dilemmas which drive the film lack sufficient exploration beyond soap opera arcs and Emma Watson is distractingly miscast. Never able to convince that her character has an ounce of the history she professes, she serves little dramatic purpose beyond romantic foil for Charlie.
When the plot seems torn between whether it’s a romantic drama or psychological study of repressed memories, each tender melodrama is an unwelcome interlude. Both strands work well in isolation but rarely form a workable symbiosis.
It's in the age difference of three years between Charlie and his cohorts that shades of This Is England start to appear. It's not overt but there’s almost the sense of an Americanised retelling; this youngster who starts to find his identity through hanging out with older peers and discovers a sense of belonging through the world of music, literature and drugs they introduce him to. It never strays into the same darker areas as This Is England but it’s riddled with many of the same touch points – even down to our hero’s relationship with the weird, shaven-headed older girl.
It’s undoubtedly affecting at times in spite of its multiple flaws and while attacking the themes with an occasional dearth of finesse, there is some profundity in there. As Patrick states in one scene, his life is like an “afterschool special”. It’s fine to acknowledge that but it doesn’t excuse the fact that the film has been written in such a way.
Having harped on about the use of music in the film it seems churlish to point out that the jukebox soundtrack is actually very good and the song selection perfectly balances out the slightly wistful cinematography.
We open with a countdown and the film ends accordingly; time has passed and lives have changed but the rigidity of that time period make those life changing events appear glossed over in pursuit of a framework. When so much time is devoted to letting us know just how much our heroes stand out from the crowd, it’s just not clear exactly what the perks of being a wallflower are.

1 comment:

  1. One of my favorite films of the year because of how it captures all of the painstakingly heartfelt emotions of high school, and just growing up in general. And yes, I did a shed a tear or two. Great review Ross.