Talking Movies

October 3, 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Director Stephen Chbosky adapts his own acclaimed 1999 young adult novel for a movie that treats high-schoolers as seriously as Adventureland did college graduates.

Socially isolated teenager Charlie (Logan Lerman) starts high school after a summer of depression over his best friend’s suicide. His parents (Dylan McDermott and Kate Walsh) are loving and acerbic, but as little help emotionally as his sister Candace (Nina Dobrev). Charlie remains haunted by the memory of his dead aunt Helen (Melanie Lynskey), the one member of the family who truly loved him. However, when he strikes up a friendship with flamboyant senior Patrick (Ezra Miller), and becomes instantly smitten with Patrick’s step-sister Sam (Emma Watson), he is absorbed into their tight-knit social circle which includes Scott Pilgrim stars Johnny Simmons as self-loathing jock Brad and Mae Whitman as would-be photographer Mary Elizabeth. But even as Charlie tears thru the novels given to him by teacher Mr Anderson (Paul Rudd), and blooms into a Rocky Horror performer under the tutelage of Sam, a traumatic end to the year awaits him and these beautiful people…

The range displayed by these young stars is startling. Lerman played the charismatic rebel in Meet Bill and Miller the troubled loner in We Need to Talk About Kevin, yet here Lerman is impressively subdued and Miller is an exuberant joy. Watson meanwhile is luminous, and I would always have regarded her as merely competent. The acting is impeccable even in the smaller roles. McDermott is wonderfully cutting, Whitman hilariously narcissistic and garrulous, and Walsh has an astonishing reaction shot. Cameoing Vampire Diaries heroine Nina Dobrev meanwhile just can’t seem to escape boyfriend drama (here with Ponytail Derek, despised by her entire family) and caring for a drug-addled younger brother. Chbosky also triumphs in making his novel utterly cinematic, from a Dexy’s Midnight Runners sound-tracked dance where Charlie truly joins Patrick and Sam’s clique, to Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ blasting out on the radio as Patrick roars thru a tunnel while Sam stands up on their truck.

The central idea of the film, “We accept the love we think we deserve,” is played brilliantly as a piercing insight into the damaged relationships pursued by the central trio. Despite their cool mix-tapes, sardonic wit, and good hearts Patrick and Sam are made to feel like losers by the wider school and so accept less than they deserve. Meeting Charlie oddly may be a spur for them too. Chbosky delightfully never unequivocally locates this film in Pittsburgh until a Penguins reference in the penultimate scene, an ambiguity mirrored in our uncertainty about Charlie’s mental state and past. But unlike the frustrating vagueness concerning Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s damaged hero in The Lookout we know definitely that Charlie is fully functional, just highly medicated, and dealing with immense guilt. The patient reveal of his damaged psyche makes its eventual revelation all the more powerful as it explains many different thematic strands, including a brutal and chilling cafeteria fight scene after which Charlie blacks out.

Chbosky has made a film of great wit, charm, and emotional depth that stands comparison with Michael Chabon’s Pittsburgh novels. This is a film to see and love.

5/5

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September 3, 2010

7 Reasons to love Scott Pilgrim

1. Whip-pan
Director Edgar Wright has progressed from a channel 4 sitcom to a low-budget British film, then a big-budget British film, and finally a big-budget American film without ever changing his style. All those delirious whip-pans between various locations for the sake of a character delivering one line in a continuing conversation are present and correct in Scott Pilgrim.

2. Bizarro
Brandon Routh dyes his hair blond and stomps all over his heroic Superman image (“I’m not afraid to punch a girl, I’m a rock-star!”) by hovering through the air with glowing laser-white eyes and psychic powers gained from his vegan diet. His incredibly dumb bassist is a nicely revelatory and oddly Bizarro turn by Routh as nonsensical comedian.

3. Metric
I’m not suggesting it’s actually Metric but it’s pleasing that Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich in composing the music for the film gave some variety to the styles of the different bands we hear and noticeably varied their quality even down to having the only song played by Scott’s ex-girlfriend and her successful band be actually kind of awesome…

4. Igby Goes Forth
Kieran Culkin must get work, and an awful lot of it, after his turn as Scott’s room-mate Wallace which is a joy from start to finish; whether it’s him texting Scott’s sister while he’s asleep, stealing her boyfriends when he’s awake, or helpfully, drunkenly, informing Scott after he’s already been ambushed what’s happening: “Scott! Ex! Fight!”

5. Chris Evans
Chris Evans, who actually did a better Face in The Losers than Bradley Cooper in The A-Team, drops his voice to a farcical rumbling growl to deliver nonsensically macho action-film one-liners, enters a scene by walking from his trailer in time to the Universal Fanfare, and generally Fassbenders his way through his supporting role as an A-lister.

6. No Sugar
This reprises one of my favourite elements of (500) Days of Summer. Characters break-up not because of dastardly secrets but because they’re bored, shallow or unfaithful. There is no sugar-coating of the cruelty and selfishness of the leads when it comes to their relationships, from Scott dumping Knives after two-timing her to Ramona’s endless fickleness with men.

7. It’s C.R.A.Z.Y.
Major studios don’t like risk, they like sure things, films that will make a healthy profit, hence re-makes, sequels, franchise re-boots, and adaptations of beloved TV shows. This is as crazy and original a big studio film as you’re likely to see this year, and unless you go see it Universal won’t be so daftly risk-taking again…

October 30, 2009

Jennifer’s Body

Oscar-winning Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody’s second feature script was expected to be a subversive feminist horror film, but it’s merely standard shlock with good gags.

The opening shot is very Evil Dead but turns out to be the first of many odd structural decisions as it bafflingly leads us into a lengthy spoiler-tastic prologue in a lunatic asylum. The patient is our narrator and heroine Anna ‘Needy’ Lesnicki. Ignore the posters and top billing, this is Amanda Seyfried’s film rather than Megan Fox’s. Seyfried plays a dork (Cody disappointingly conveys this thru her wearing glasses and writing for the school newspaper) who is best friends forever with mean cheerleader Jennifer (Fox). Jennifer bullies Needy into attending a concert by indie band Low Shoulder at the town bar and after an inferno rips thru the venue Needy discovers that her BFF has changed from high school evil to actual evil…

Juno was a good film enlivened by a great lead performance but neither Seyfried nor Fox are in Ellen Page’s league, and the structure of this film is far less logical. There are two incredibly creepy images, of Jennifer smiling at Needy while dripping blood, and crouching spider-like over a dead body in a sequence inter-cut with Needy having sex, but many of the scares are too well signposted. There are some subversive touches – neither lead actually appears naked (despite the marketing of the film around Fox’s hotness) and the link between virginity and survival is reversed – but given the teenage characters’ pop culture reference points surely they’d know that that’s been done before (and better) by Scream. Even the feminist angle is underdeveloped apart from a few good lines. Compared to last year’s Teeth where violently misogynist males got castrated by a rampaging feminist there’s no vicious justice served up here by the choice of male victims.

JK Simmons, almost unrecognisable in a curly wig, is rather good in another subdued outing in a Cody script but supporting honours are stolen by Adam Brody’s cameo. Brody is awesome as the lead singer of indie band Low Shoulder, and this is not just my Seth Cohen obsession speaking. His turn could best be described as a Satanic version of Brandon Flowers. Indeed the bizarre scene where the action stops near the end of the film so that Jennifer can explain to Needy what actually happened near the start of the film between Low Shoulder and Jennifer is the best of the movie as the flashback is pitch-perfect comedy-horror, dripping with blood but eminently quotable. It is baffling why Cody didn’t go with that gory comedy-horror formula for the whole movie rather than just occasionally enliven routine shlock with her flair for bitchy comedic dialogue like this three-way repartee: “She can fly?!” “She’s just hovering, it’s not that impressive” “God, do you have to undercut everything I do?!”

This is fine Hallowe’en fare, with a satisfyingly vindictive super-powered final fight between humans and demons, but Juno fans should lower their expectations.

3/5

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