The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012), directed by Stephen Chbosky

What better way to right my mind after a month of horror movies than by going to see a sweet, coming-of-age story? Am I right?

Horror took over my life so I also wanted to catch up on a couple of movies I had missed, hence this review of a movie that came out weeks ago. Deal with it.

Well, this was a shock to my desensitized system. Did you guys know there are movies out there with characters that have complex feelings and can be relatable? Whose purpose isn’t to just scream and die? I know, it blew my mind too.

This movie made me feel all forlorn and emotional and stuff. Scared the hell out of me, frankly. Way scarier than The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.

This is the kind of movie that reminds us all just how wonderful and horrible it is to be 16. It is the very definition of “bittersweet.” I left the cinema half devastated and half inspired by the frenetic, uncontrollable energy of youth that this movie captures so well. It’s frankly exhausting to watch but I think a good representation and a good reminder of what it’s like to be a lost, lovesick teen trapped in an adult’s world.

This has to be one of the few cases ever where the author of a novel has directed the film version of that novel. I had no idea this was the case while I was watching the movie, but a friend told me afterwards that’s what was up and that the movie had remained very faithful to the novel, which makes sense.

Chbosky is a first-time director with this film and while I think he did a generally wonderful job I think he has a thing or two to learn about pacing still. While a novel can afford to meander somewhat because generally a reader picks it up and puts it down, there are few things more important to a movie than flow.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower clocks in at 102 minutes and I think the movie could have been well served with about 15 or so of those being chopped. The main reason is that the film is just so darn heavy. We’re dealing with first love and suicide and identity and being in high school and all those things that just break your darn heart. And that’s the strength of the movie, but at some points I just felt the film was drowning in it and that pushed me away.

There is such a thing as laying it on too thick, and what with the melancholy voiceover narration and the endless scenes of misery or segments wallowing in just the sad beauty of it all, it gets a bit much at points. As an audience member you can only take so much if the plot isn’t also progressing in some meaningful, compelling way.

This doesn’t ruin the movie, I still very much enjoyed it and can only imagine how much more I would have enjoyed it at 17, but it could be so much better if it had been tightened up.

What does work works tremendously well. All the young actors are fantastic, especially Logan Lerman as our introverted hero Charlie. Ezra Miller, out to prove himself more than a cold-faced killer named Kevin, is also electric as Patrick, a gay senior student dealing with all that you can imagine that brings. And in one of her first post-Potter roles, Emma Watson shows signs of being an actress that will soon be coming into her own.

And then there’s the music and the tragic splendour and the drugs and the love and first kisses and all that. I loved how the characters didn’t know what song David Bowie’s “Heroes” was, that was cute. Remember discovering those types of things and how significant that was? It’s getting harder and harder to find new things to get excited about, one of the downsides of maturing, but we should all occasionally look at the world through our old teenage eyes. We would remember what’s important.

By no means a perfect movie, or even an excellent one, I still very much enjoyed the experience of watching The Perks of Being a Wallflower and remembering that time in life, with all its wonder and tragedy.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is in theatres now.

We Need to Talk About Kevin

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011), directed by Lynne Ramsay

Welcome one, welcome all to the new home of CineFile. I know, I know, I’m excited too. Settle down. Some of you may be new to this blog, some of you may be holdouts from its previous home at the Powell River Peak, where the blog has been hosted for the past two years. Some of you may never read this, which is fair. Either way, here we go.

Okay, listen, we need to talk about We Need to Talk About Kevin. I was excited to see this film because two of my favourite actors are in it (Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly) and because of the massive amount of acclaim it is getting. I kind of knew what it was about, but not really. The trailer makes it clear that it’s about a disturbed child, a distraught mother and, possibly, some sort of horrendous event, but it’s notably abstruse.

Turns out that’s exactly what it’s about. But nothing could have prepared me for just how intense, creative, consuming and, ultimately, affecting We Need to Talk About Kevin truly is.

There’s no need to sugarcoat it, this is a creepy and hugely impactful movie. This is a good mood buster. Its narrative is somewhat abstract as it jumps around in time and uses a barrel full of “arty” cinematic techniques to disorient the viewer and create an atmosphere of chaos and violence. It works.

It’s a deeply textural film. The editing is frantic, yet precise, as it weaves together various points in time and intersperses creative montages with its linear narrative to create an image of a personality formed as much, if not more, by the chaos of nature then the shortcomings of parenting. We are never asked to sympathize with the character but the structure of the film asks us to perhaps understand him: it is deadening, terrifying and exhausting and gives a sense of the hopelessness that perhaps drives Kevin.

I came out of the theatre wondering whether this film is anything even close to an accurate portrayal of the kind of person who ends up committing an atrocity like Kevin’s. I doubted it. I was in high school when the Columbine tragedy occurred and have been reading about the Kimberly Proctor murder here in Langford as the second anniversary of her death approaches. In cases like this we see accounts of teenagers with obvious mental illness, who obsess over death, violence and harming others and themselves. They leave a trail of evidence that leads to a psychological profile that speaks of personality disorders, sociopathy and psychopathy. Surely the parents would have known.

But in cases like this none of that is discovered until after the crime. And the parents often don’t have a clue. Read, for instance, this letter from Susan Klebold, the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the Columbine shooters. Klebold seemed more depressed and suicidal perhaps then psychopathic, but obviously that is hard to say for sure. Kevin is psychopathic. And a sociopath. He obviously has no empathy or love or respect for life. He is not an animal. He is a monster. His mother knows Kevin is not normal, but even so, how could she possibly have predicted what he did?

My only concern is whether this film should be taken as a legitimate look at mental illness; at its causes and symptoms and those that the illness affects. Or is it a horror movie? If it’s a horror movie it’s one of the scariest and most lingeringly creepy horror films I’ve seen in a while. If it is an accurate portrait of a school shooter then it is even more horrifying.

That being said, if it is just a horror movie then that could be problematic and exploitative. I love exploitation cinema, but obviously to exploit school shootings falls somewhere well outside the line of even stretched good taste. I’m not going to be able to answer this one as I’m not an expert on the psychology of school shooters. I have done a number of Wiki searches on school shootings, and on sociopathy and psychopathy, and my doubts about the accuracy of this movie are certainly less then when I left the theatre.

We Need to Talk About Kevin brings up the old nature versus nurture debate. The truth is that there are people like or very similar to Kevin in the world, people who are completely nihilistic, violent and destructive. What produces them? Is it purely mental illness? Or something lacking in their upbringing? How do bad people come from seemingly good homes? What makes a boy like Kevin?

This is the struggle of the film and the struggle of Tilda Swinton’s character. She isn’t necessarily fit for motherhood and would prefer to be off traveling the world. But does she deserve this? And is it her fault? Nobody is a perfect parent, even Reilly’s character, who is the ultimate supportive dad, could be called overbearing. But again, I’m sure we all have complaints about our parents and we aren’t murderers (I hope).

We see at time Kevin displaying emotion. At the end he claims that he no longer know why he did what he did. Do we believe him? Is there something resembling a human being behind those cold, piercing eyes? That is left for us to decide.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is in theatres now.