I love films that harken back to the ‘80s, and this one does it extremely well. In a way, “Perks” is reminiscent of “St. Elmo’s Fire” which is more about about self-centered brats trying to become adults, but there’s a lot of familiar feeling between the two films. But a better and more direct comparison is “It’s Kind of a Funny Story”. Adolescent kids with some serious mental and emotional problems, just trying to live their lives – it may not be all that original, but it sure is fun to watch!
Anyway, “Perks” is fairly incredible. It’s mostly the acting. Logan Lerman plays main character Charlie who is having problems entering into his Freshman year in High School. Who hasn’t been there? There’s a wealth of reasons why Charlie is pretty nervous about High School, and none of them are easy for any teenager to handle. He does the best he can, but alas he is becoming a wallflower. However, Charlie bravely befriends Patrick (played masterfully by Ezra Miller) at a football game. Miraculously, Patrick and his stepsister Sam (Emma Watson, a.k.a. Hermoine from “Harry Potter”) accept Charlie into their fold.
This is perhaps the greatest thing about people. Some people are wonderful because they don’t judge you; they look at you, smile, and invite you to join in the game of life that we all must play. In high school, that sensation is magnified a hundredfold. Call it teenage angst or whatever, but it’s very real and very, very powerful. Does anyone NOT remember high school? Some of us were lucky, entering as Freshmen with older siblings ahead of us. Some of us see old friends who no longer wish to talk to us. Some of us know people that are friends with our cool older siblings and we think that might work in our favor. And some of us are unlucky enough to have all of this pass us by, and we are left standing against a wall at a high school dance, too socially inept to do much of anything except watch life pass us by. “Perks” captures this brilliantly and amazingly well.
On the plus side, “Perks” will also let you believe in the camaraderie that exists between wallflowers. In the ‘80s, we were freaks, geeks, social outcasts, misfits, etc. Whatever we were, we found strength in each other. That is the message behind “Perks”. As messed up as you might think you are, you can find solace in the kindred spirits around you. They are always there. You just have to be brave enough to try to be a friend. “Perks” highlights this is an elegant and delightful manner. Maybe Patrick and Sam didn’t go to your school, but I bet if you reach back inside your mind, you will find them there. The characters are sweet to the point of maybe being a little too good to be true, but I bought the performances easily.
There are the stereotypes to be found in this film ALL OVER the place. There’s the punk rock girl that is bossy. The kleptomaniac does it out of spite to her rich parents. There’s the gay jock trying to hide who he really is from his own father. There’s even the artsy & cool English teacher. The crazy goofball who is actually the wonderful best friend you never knew you had. Of course, there’s the innocent boy and the quirky girl trying NOT to be a couple but are actually perfect for each other. However, the serious side of this movie is that dark and ugly horrors existed in seemingly every high school back in the ‘80s. I won’t even go into them, but we all knew they were there. Maybe that was just the way the ‘80s were: a time when those secrets and horrors were seemingly everywhere. Truth is, there have always been there, but in the ‘80s, they were coming out in to the light. For some reason, high school seemed to be the catalyst in unleashing the “other” side of life. It was the life we were really living, but society didn’t seem to want to hear it. Now, I am sure that is true for how all high school students feel regardless of what decade I am talking about, so maybe that was not limited to the ‘80s. The bottom-line: “Perks” brought up a lot of the social feel of the ‘80s to me and it seemed pretty authentic.
There’s a lot of “oh I remember that stuff” moments in “Perks”, mostly nostalgic feelings for the music. The film is set in the ‘80s, in case you hadn’t guessed. The artistic style of its direction felt Cameron Crowe-like at some points in the film, too. The film is based on a book and honestly I do not know if it was biographical or not. All I can say is that as a high schooler from the ‘80s, it seemed pretty accurate. I enjoyed the way it was filmed, and in particular I loved the absence of sound during some of the flashbacks – save for dialogue. That created a wonderful sort of spotlight on the moment.
All in all, “Perks” is a cool film set in an era that is no more, filled with cool music and recognizable stereotypes. Underneath all of that though, there is a rather depressing story to be told. So, be warned about this film: it is not all happiness and light. The mature themes of this depressive tale mark this as what I would deem a Rated R film. There’s sex, drugs, language, violence, and sexual themes abound in this. Fortunately, “Perks” stays on point with the story of Charlie and doesn’t get lost in the miasma of the debauchery of teenage life. The message of the film stays strong and comes out on top with its realistic ending. Here’s to life in the ‘80s and here’s to “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” for reminding us how messed up our lives were or were not back then. A good movie!
…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE