Awkwardly real ‘Wallflower’ a touching tale of acceptance

Whimsical, extroverted gay guys and button-cute music snobs.

They should be mass-produced, shrink-wrapped and given to every freshman, as standard-issue as class schedules and locker assignments, on the first day of high school.

Because if they can help Charlie (Logan Lerman) survive in the charming coming-of-age tale “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” they could make anyone’s teen years seem less brutal.

Written and directed by Stephen Chbosky (who adapts his semiautobiographical young adult novel), “Wallflower” feels like something Nick Hornby might have churned out after binging on John Hughes movies and “very special episodes” of old WB dramas.

It’s an ode to the power of mixtapes and a simpler, pre-Shazam era, when you could fall deeply, madly in love with a song, then go weeks or even months before hearing it again.

And it serves as a reminder that one magical encounter can improve even the bleakest of lives.

Middle school was no picnic for Charlie, and high school is shaping up to be even worse. Painfully alone with a dark secret that seems to hover over him like a cloud, he counts the days – 1,385 to be exact – until graduation.

Then he musters the courage to talk to Patrick (Ezra Miller), the rebellious clown of their shop class. That leads him to Patrick’s stepsister, Sam (Emma Watson), with whom he bonds over their love of The Smiths – even though Charlie only knows them through the mixtapes his sister (Nina Dobrev) passes down from her lame, eco-championing boyfriend, Ponytail Derek.

Before long, Charlie is welcomed into a protective family of senior-class outcasts that also includes Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman), a punk Buddhist who runs a fanzine dedicated to music and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” and Alice (Erin Wilhelmi), a wannabe goth who shoplifts jeans for kicks.

“Wallflower” isn’t your typical teen movie. There are no crazy pranks. No wild, the-parents-are-outta-town-so-we-owe-it-to-ourselves-to-party parties. It’s mostly a collection of small scenes that feel awkwardly, intimately real – from the unself-conscious joy of being a part of a live “Rocky Horror” troupe to the most elaborately touching Secret Santa exchange you could ever hope to see.

And the soundtrack is a remarkably specific collection ranging from Cracker and New Order to MC 900 Ft. Jesus and Cocteau Twins to – hilariously, when Sam’s boyfriend deems the mixtape Charlie compiled to impress her too somber for a party – Young MC.

In “Wallflower,” Watson proves she’s perfectly capable of making movie magic outside the friendly confines of Hogwarts. And the film serves as a coming-out party for Miller. His Patrick, who easily could have come across as a generically flamboyant tangle of eccentricities, still feels grounded and brightens every scene he’s in.

Lerman, though, is the wounded center of it all. His Charlie looks at Sam with so much love and hope that when he tells her she has pretty eyes – “the kind of pretty that deserves to make a big deal out of itself” – he makes it sound real in a way Pacey and the gang on “Dawson’s Creek” never could.

When the focus unexpectedly shifts to him at a party, and he freely admits, “I didn’t think anyone noticed me,” it will break your heart.

“Wallflower,” though, mixes plenty of beauty with its tragedy. The scene in which Patrick and Sam perform their “living room routine” at homecoming to the strains of “Come On Eileen,” for example, may be the most fun any movie characters have had at a school dance since the African Anteater Ritual swept through “Can’t Buy Me Love.”

It’s a touching tale of acceptance, the sort of thing around which school assemblies should be built – if only to remind students that all teenagers are damaged, it’s really only a matter of degrees.

But there are enough poignant scenes in “Wallflower” for it to be embraced not just by teens but by anyone who’s ever been one.

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@
reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567.

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