[The Perks of Being a Wallflower]

Stephen Chbosky’s novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower was released in 1999, which means that if you are older than me you might never have heard of it, but if you were in high school at the time or younger, it probably changed your life. I’ve seen more text tattoos based on it than I can count. Ezra Miller, who plays Patrick in the film, described the book as “body armor… protection or salvation”. That sounds about right.

I finally read it in 2004. I was finishing grad school and working a summer temp job. I remember reading Perks on my lunch break, sitting in the plaza above International District station, and then returning to the reception desk of a incredibly quiet office, where I would write ridiculous stories on the internet & watch increasingly depressing coverage of the presidential election. It’s just that kind of book. You remember where you were.

The thing about the book is that you read it, and you think that no high school kid would ever react to events like Charlie does. No high school kid is that sensitive. The thing we realized when we saw the movie is that Stephen Chbosky — author, screenwriter, director — *is* Charlie. Charlie exists.

But let’s back up for a moment.

What you want to know is that the film is lovely. All of the key moments you remember from the book are there, and they are true, and they are magical. The biggest criticism I can offer is that the cast is a little too beautiful, by which I mean not just that the leads are, but even the parents — Dylan McDermott & Kate Walsh as Father & Mother. Nina Dobrev as Charlie’s sister. Melanie Lynskey as his adored, troubled aunt. And so on.

The structure is a little different, because it is a movie, duh, and so there are things that are revealed later in the book but earlier in the movie, and vice versa. So if you are an OMG NO CHANGES EVER person, too bad for you. You’re missing out, is what I am saying.

If you’re older than me, the main thing you should know about the novel is that it’s epistolary. Thus, it is inevitably very internal, characters aren’t fleshed out beyond what they are to Charlie, and he of course is an unreliable narrator. He’s writing the letters to an unknown recipient, and this carries over (lightly) into the film. That’s an easy thing to overdo with loads of voiceover, and Chbosky avoids that trap, which is commendable.

The story follows Charlie through his freshman year of high school. He’s had shit happen to him in the past, heavier shit than happens to most teens, but not heavier than all. Because the thing about teenagers is that they’re people, and terrible things happen to them, and even if you ban the books that talk about those things, this will not have the magical effect of making bad shit go away. It has the magical effect of preventing teens from having a language to talk about their own lives.

Um. Got on a little YA librarian kick there. Sorry. Back now.

So he’s trying, as he says in the book, to ‘participate’ despite all this shit. And the beautiful thing about Logan Lerman as Charlie is that you can see this whole thing, the effort of participation (and it *is* an effort, to be a part of this world) written across his face. You can see it when he considers where to sit in the lunchroom, strategizes in the stands at the football game, and silently talks himself into joining in at the dance.

He still has darkness in him, and sometimes you can see something about him or hear something in his voice that makes you wonder if JD would have turned out okay in the end if he had an English teacher who really challenged him & if he had met the right friends in the early days of his freshman year.

Because Charlie does have the right teacher and he does meet the right friends. He meets two seniors, Sam (Emma Watson, with a serviceable American accent) & Patrick (Miller, who steals every damn scene he’s in), who make the effort to welcome him into their circle because they see both his potential and his need. And, of course, more than a little bit of themselves.

It made me feel All of the Feelings, it made me miss going to RHPS, and it made me so damn glad I’m not in high school anymore.

So now back to Charlie and Stephen. So our screening, to our great surprise, was followed by a Q&A. I am not going to be able to do justice to this experience, but there was a story shared that I think you should know, so we’re just going to power through.

The Q&A started out a bit awkward. Chbosky said that he wasn’t usually like this, that Seattle was a special place for him, but you never know. I’ve attended the film festival for 16 years, and some directors just give bad Q&A, you know? But finally he started talking about Stewart Stern (which I found super exciting, because I am a total Stewart Stern fangirl: you can buy me a drink sometime & I will tell you all about it), and THEN. He told us Stern was in the house that night and asked him to come down & join him.

And I exploded a little inside.

They talked about a number of things, and I believe it was edited into a podcast, but here’s the important story: when Chbosky was 17, he chose the USC film program because Stern taught in it, but right at the start of the school year, Stern suffered a heart attack. While he was recovering, Chbosky sent him anonymous packages, full of things to charm & cheer (like, seriously, Winnie-the-Pooh books) & with (as Stern tells it) beautiful, inspiring letters.

Not wanting it to seem as if he was doing it to get ahead in the business, Chbosky sent it all under a pseudonym, and Stern was unable to find out who the packages were from. Stern had an open letter posted in response, and in this way they carried on a correspondence, anonymous on one side, for TWO YEARS. Incredibly mature, sensitive correspondence from a teenager. Sound familiar?

Then, well. You’ll have to hear Stern tell it some time, how he just knew when he saw him that the letters were from Chbosky, and how that was the start of a mentorship & friendship that lasts til this day. And if you don’t tear up even a little, you are made of tougher stuff than I am.

At the screening someone asked if when there would be the film or book of their relationship, and Chbosky said that for his side, this was it. Obviously. Charlie’s letters to someone who doesn’t know him (and who he doesn’t really know) plus the mentorship by his English teacher (Paul Rudd, by the way, which is great).

It’s an amazing tribute. And it’s out now. You should see it.

[Liberal Arts & Hello I Must Be Going]

I don’t know if this is true if you didn’t go to a small, liberal arts school, but I did, more or less, and there were times in the years since graduation where the Avenue Q song “I Wish I Could Go Back to College” defined my life.

I wish I could go back to college.
In college you know who you are.
You sit in the quad, and think, “Oh my God!
I am totally gonna go far!”

Josh Radnor is a few years older than me, but in Liberal Arts, his Jesse Fisher is also looking for “an academic advisor to point the way”. He works in college admissions in New York, and he gets a call from an old professor (Richard Jenkins, perfection as usual), inviting him back for his retirement celebration.

Back at his alma mater he meets 19 year old Zibby (yes, it is a ridiculous name, but you don’t care very much because she’s played by Elizabeth Olsen) & they strike up a friendship. It’s about wishing you could go back to college, and working out why that is not an awesome idea.

Liberal Arts is not breaking any new ground, but it’s a pleasant film, elevated by its cast, which in addition to the aforementioned includes Allison Janney, Elizabeth Reaser, and a scene-stealing turn by Zac Efron (no, really). There’s dialogue about how no one is really grown-up, but you have people like Richard Jenkins saying it, which makes it okay. It’s a dose of nostalgia and a cure for it all at once.

(I should mention that I do not watch “How I Met Your Mother”, and so I do not know what effect that might have on your experience watching a Josh Radnor film. So there you go. Also, I would like copies of the CDs Zibby sends Jesse, so if someone could get on that, that would be awesome.)

I saw Liberal Arts on a Monday evening at SIFF, and the next day I saw Todd Luiso’s film Hello I Must Be Going.

On the surface, Hello I Must Be Going is the same story, but with the gender roles reversed. Instead of going back to college after a breakup, Amy (Melanie Lynskey in a fantastic performance) goes back home after her divorce, which is as helpful for her mental health as you might imagine.

At an insufferable dinner party she meets 19 year old Jeremy (Christopher Abbott), a young presumed-gay actor who is the only other person at the party interested in being an actual human being. They connect, and then struggle to hide this bizarre relationship from both sets of parents.

Of the two, Liberal Arts is the most straight-forward accessible picture, but Hello I Must Be Going is the better film. I’m disappointed by its terrible IMDb score. The film is hard on Amy — she’s at a much lower point in her life when Hello begins than Jesse is in Arts, and she still has farther to fall, but it’s a much more interesting journey and a braver performance.

Liberal Arts continues at SIFF at the Uptown.
Hello I Must Be Going continues at Regal Meridian.

[Five Things About Trouble with the Curve]

Trouble with the Curve is one of those mediocre movies that I don’t usually bother to write about, but I’m making an exception for two reasons. One, a lot of you love baseball movies. *I* love baseball movies, and I don’t even care about baseball. Two, it is important you know that Ebert was wrong when he said this was a good baseball movie.

1) The baseball team in question is the Braves. I have been informed that this is an important piece of information, but you should know that the person who told me this is a Phillies fan. None of this actually means anything to me.

2) The story is…whatever. Clint Eastwood is his grunting & muttering old goat from Gran Turino, but now as a baseball scout. He’s about to be pushed out of the organization by Young Guys Who Use Computers Rather Than Instinct, but he has One Last Chance To Prove Himself. It’s basically the anti-Moneyball.

3) He also has a Complicated Relationship with his daughter (Amy Adams as a lawyer with fantastic hair, not a Bubbly Princess or MPDG, which is nice). She develops a Complicated Relationship with Justin Timberlake, who is willing to wait As Long As It Takes for her to be ready, which is [SPOILER] about a minute and a half.

4) All of this plays out against a backdrop of high school baseball games, with a mediocre script & worse camerawork. I am not a filmmaker or anything, but it really cannot be that difficult to have both Adams *and* Timberlake in focus at the same time. It’s directed by long-time Eastwood AD Robert Lorenz, which I suppose explains how he got Eastwood to sign on.

5) Four versions of “You Are My Sunshine” are used in the film. None of them are performed by Justin Timberlake. One of them is performed by Clint Eastwood, and it feels like the toast scene in Bridesmaids: endless.

Bonus: The best part of the movie was definitely the trailer for Argo. Basically, if you want to watch a baseball movie, there are plenty of good ones. If you want to watch Eastwood being cranky, there’s YouTube of his RNC appearance, but also Gran Turino, which is problematic but interesting. And even though I haven’t seen it yet, I’m pretty sure that The Master is the best Amy Adams film in theaters Friday.

[Films Worth Getting Up For: The Summer]

This summer I haven’t been writing much, and when I have, it’s about movies I wasn’t impressed with. That’s no fun! Over on the (also neglected) real life blog I stole a concept from a friend, writing quarterly posts about things “worth getting up for”. So here’s my “films worth getting up for” this summer.

A caveat: I spend a lot of time seeing revival film, but for the purposes of this post I am ignoring all of that. Obviously it was worth getting up for things like Grand Illusion, a Buster Keaton double feature, and Dirty Dancing. This post is about new stuff that lit my socks on fire.

* The Imposter. A must-see, truly stranger-than-fiction documentary. The set-up is that 13 year old Nicholas Barclay goes missing in Texas. Three years later, the family gets a call from police in Spain, saying he’s been found there. In spite of the fact that the man in custody is clearly older than 16 & bears no physical resemblance to Barclay, they welcome him into their home.

The documentary includes interviews with the family, various officials involved in the process of bringing this person from Spain, a private detective (fascinating in his own right), and the imposter himself, Frédéric Bourdin. He is astonishingly willing to discuss how he pulled it off and why he did it.

The film also includes family home video and some dramatic recreation, and basically you’re going to sit there exclaiming “WHAT?” a lot. So you should see it with other people and leave time to talk it over.

* Old Goats is a local film starring non-actors, both of which are often warning signs. Luckily, it is also utterly delightful. Borne of director Taylor Guterson’s desire to capture the personalities of the three leads, the film sets up a fictional structure in which Brit, Bob, and Dave are essentially playing themselves. And they are hilarious as they deal with retirement, dating, technology, and their own histories. It’s an earnest, crowd-pleaser sort of film, and you don’t need to be an old goat yourself to enjoy it.

* Robot and Frank is also a film that tackles aging, but further along than the Goats. Frank Langella plays Frank, a retired thief who is having trouble living on his own. Rather than moving him into a care facility, his son (James Marsden) brings him a robot assistant.

Frank is initially resistant to the idea, but he starts developing a relationship with the robot when he discovers that the robot may know the definition of terms related to morality, but does not see how they apply to the world. That is, the robot has no qualms helping Frank return to his old profession.

It’s set in the “near future”, where all the smartphones are see-through and we Skype on our tv, but of course most things don’t change. Frank is trying to hold on to his independence while aging, his son is worried about his memory issues, and his daughter (Liv Tyler) is a Eat Pray Love sort of traveler, who is horrified at the prospect of robot labor.

* Moonrise Kingdom. I wound up seeing this three times in the theaters, once on opening day & then twice more when it moved to SIFF Cinema. It’s a lovely film, & like most Wes Anderson films I like it more each time I see it.

* There’s a lot of writing out there on Beasts of the Southern Wild, both positive and negative, which I’m not interested in recapping here but you should absolutely seek out. For me, Beasts was a powerful criticism of systems & institutions: systems that ignore climate change & the environment for the sake of profit, systems that cut off the Bathtub from the City and then allowing the Bathtub to be flooded for the sake of the City, and most of all the top-down attempts at intervention that came after, unlooked for, untrustworthy evacuation & medical services. I did not see it as poverty porn, nor as condemnation of the people living in the Bathtub and the decisions they made within the choices they were allowed.

* Samsara is a guided meditation on the journey of life. Wait, come back. Shot in 25 countries over the course of five years, it’s a hyper-real, gorgeous, & true presentation of life on this planet. Must see in the theater.

* The Bourne Legacy. I’m a fan of the Bourne franchise, and this was another smart & satisfying popcorn movie. The greatest weakness was that they tried too hard to tie it to the previous Bourne films. Not necessary, guys! I like knowing where it fits in the timeline — I’ve said a lot that I love how the third movie takes place during the last ten minutes of the second one — but there was definite Matt Damon overkill. We get it, guys. Trust this story.

* Finally, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which I will write about properly once I can say something other than ALL OF THE FEELINGS.

What movies set your socks on fire this summer?


Beasts of the Southern Wild continues at SIFF at the Uptown through at least September 20th.
The Bourne Legacy is playing at various Seattle theaters.
The Imposter is playing at Sundance Cinemas.
Old Goats continues at SIFF at the Uptown through at least September 20th.
Moonrise Kingdom is playing at various Seattle theaters.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower opens Friday September 28th at the Harvard Exit.
Robot & Frank continues at the Egyptian through September 20th.
Samsara continues at the Cinerama through September 20th & moves to SIFF on September 21st.

[5 Things I Thought About While Watching Farewell, My Queen]

Guys, I really wanted to love Farewell, My Queen, and it was beautiful and everything, especially the ladies and the clothes, but mostly I was kind of bored.

The film tells the story of the last days of Marie Antoinette through the eyes of her reader, which is a neat way of structuring a film because it creates a tension between her highly limited information as a servant and the historical information we have as an audience. It’s based on a novel, apparently, which I have not read, but as is often true when I don’t get quite what I want out of a film I am now curious about the book.

Here are five things I thought about while watching Farewell, My Queen:

1) The original casting. I read that Eva Green had been cast as Marie Antoinette, but she left the project to do Dark Shadows instead. This was probably a mistake. I spent a lot of time thinking about the spin she could have put on the role, particularly considering her work in The Dreamers and Cracks. This is not at all a knock against Diane Kruger who was great. Just, Green would have been very different.

2) Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette. For whatever reason (probably just a deep personal failing on my part) I only just saw this film about six months ago. I loved it, and deeply regretted not seeing it in the theater. I’m hoping SIFF does a Sofia Coppola tribute sooner rather than later & I’ll get another chance to see it properly.

3) Inglourious Basterds. Diane Kruger gives a lovely performance as Marie Antoinette, but mostly I just wanted to go home and watch her fierce turn as Bridget von Hammersmark.

4) 8 Women. I know Virginie Ledoyen has been working consistently since this film, but every time I see her I think of her as the young, perhaps not-so-innocent daughter in 8 Women. I remember it as a campy & ridiculous murder mystery full of awesome ladies, and watching her as Gabrielle, the object of the Queen’s affections, very attuned to the workings of the court, I thought it might be fun to revisit. It is a virtual who’s who of awesome French actresses.

5) Léa Seydoux. She’s the star of this film, as Sidonie, the reader captivated by the Queen, & I am enjoying that she is suddenly everywhere. She’s reportedly starring in a Beauty & the Beast film next year, opposite Vincent Cassel as the Beast, and if you don’t think I’m excited about that. Well. Perhaps we have not yet been properly introduced.