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The Perks of Being a Wallflower; Diana Vreeland; Lou Harrison
Knight at the Movies:
by Richard Knight, Jr., for Windy City Times
2012-09-26

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Stephen Chbosky's 1999 novel The Perks of a Wallflower has become something of a talisman for a generation of teenage social outsiders and misfits in much the same way that Catcher in the Rye and films like Rebel without a Cause and The Breakfast Club have spoken to previous generations experiencing the same sense of youthful dissatisfaction with the mainstream. Now Chbosky has adapted his book for the screen and makes his debut as the director of the film version. The movie, like the novel, is a beautifully observed study of awkward adolescence on the cusp of discovery—a gentle, winning coming of age tale.

The shyly charming Logan Lerman essays the role of Charlie, the bookish, friendless freshman who dreams of being a writer and finds plenty of potential material as he enters his first year of high school in the early 1990s. Determined to make even one friend on his first day he settles—glumly and with perfect insight about how embarrassing it is—with his English teacher (Paul Rudd, exuding his usual charm). But Charlie is quietly determined, in spite of the usual rejections and serial taunts of the school jocks, to somehow fit in. A chance encounter with two seniors at a football game—Patrick (gay actor Ezra Miller) and his sister, Sam (a shimmering Emma Watson)—changes everything for Charlie when they take him in as one of their own.

Charlie is dazzled by the bravado and glamour of these two high school sophisticates who don't give a fig about being popular, dress codes or doing anything to fit in. Patrick, a prankster, is openly gay and carrying on a secret affair with someone on the football team while Sam has a boyfriend who, in Charlie's eyes, doesn't deserve her for a second. He finds himself surrounded by a supportive group and he quickly falls secretly for Sam.

A lot of familiar teenage angst is expended as the year plays out in a series of adventures both funny and tragic while this fearless trio finds the boundaries of their friendships tested. Sections of Ordinary People and Fame included this same bittersweet insight into the difficult high school years. And like the latter, Perks includes a large nod to the supreme pleasures of outsiders enjoying the communal spirit—exemplified by the ritual power of dressing up in drag and participating in a screening of the camp classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Patrick, Sam and, eventually, Charlie parrot the "Don't Dream It, Be It" message that Tim Curry's drag-queen mad scientist character Frank-N-Furter espouses. Charlie ultimately finds himself part of the floor show, his inhibitions tossed aside.

The characters in The Perks of Being a Wallflower are so filled with yearning it practically blows up the screen; rarely has a movie captured both the exuberant euphoria and simultaneous sadness of this seminal rite of passage. Chbosky's deep understanding of the material and his sure handling of his young, talented cast help navigate this tricky emotional terrain—not always quite successfully—but often enough to forgive the film's intermittent continuity gaps and a few plot missteps. The movie's a rousing experience that more than lives up to its ironic title.

Briefly noted: Two documentaries opening this weekend both offer cogent portraits of artistic dynamos hard at work and will certainly be of interest to queer film fans. In Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, we see the fashion doyenne as she is dictating her memoirs and ruminating on her fabulous, one-of-a-kind life. Vreeland's influence on the U.S. fashion industry (solidified through her editorial stints at Harper's Bazaar and Vogue) cannot be overstated, and this outspoken woman—who lived for style yet never let it overwhelm her—is certainly a fascinating topic.

Although the movie, co-helmed by her granddaughter-in-law Lisa, never quite pierces the often outrageous exterior of its subject, that's to be expected. Vreeland herself, as the movie points out, was the queen of reinvention who never lost the chance to embroider when the rather unfabulous truth threatened to bore. And the archival footage of Vreeland at work and sitting bemused for interviews with Diane Sawyer, Dick Cavett and Jane Pauley is as vivid as the fire-engine red decor of her Manhattan apartment. A host of lively talking heads (including relatives and former work associates) round out this warm portrait of the world's first true fashion maven and female icon. The film opens Sept. 28 at the Music Box Theatre, 3730 N. Southport Ave. www.musicboxtheatre.com

Likewise, Lou Harrison: A World of Music offers a loving portrait of a man whose talents poured forth at an enviable rate. But Harrison, an unsung giant of 20th-century modern music, is hardly known outside musical circles today—and small ones at that—while his percussive, sometimes dissonant yet always enthralling music suffers the same fate. This all makes Eva Solte's entertaining documentary of the late, openly queer composer, with his delicate demeanor, so welcome.

Harrison, an associate and early champion of avant-garde composer John Cage, and contemporary of Charles Ives and Virgil Thompson, narrates his own story and he is often seen alongside his partner of many years. The film includes excerpts from many of Harrison's gorgeous scores and tributes from many of his colleagues. The film plays Sept. 29 and Oct. 1 at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St. Soltes will be present at both screenings. www.siskelfilmcenter.com

Film notes:

—Director Aurora Guerror's acclaimed lesbian romantic drama Mosquita y Mari, a hit at last year's Sundance, is having its Midwest premiere tonight, Wed., Sept. 26, at the Logan Square Theater, 2646 N. Milwaukee Ave., at 8pm. The screening will begin with a documentary titled Gay Latino L.A.: Coming of Age. The Queer Film Society is hosting the event and I'll be conducting the audience talkback following the screening. A post-film cocktail reception follows at 9:30 p.m. www.mexicanfilmfestival.org

—Out playwright Terrence McNally's Corpus Christi, in which McNally dramatizes the story of Christ through a queer lens reset in the '50s in Corpus Christi, Texas, has, not surprisingly, been a source of controversy since its premiere. Six years ago, producer/actor James Brandon (who plays the lead) and director Nic Arnzen, a former Chicagoan, worked together on a production of the play on the West Coast that was critically lauded. A subsequent tour ensued with the controversy following in its footsteps.

Arnzen, along with Brandon, documented the experience in a feature-length film called Corpus Christi: Playing with Redemption, which tracks the divisive reactions—both pro and con—to the touring production. Now both documentary and play are being presented in Chicago by 108 Productions in a two-day event the Center on Halsted, Michael Leppen and Windy City Times are co-sponsoring. On Saturday, Sept. 29, the film will screen at 2 p.m., followed by a town-hall discussion with cast, crew members and local civic leaders; a performance of the play will take place at 8 p.m. Both programs and the discussion forum will be repeated Sunday, Sept. 30, at 12 p.m. (film/discussion) and play performance (2 p.m.). It all takes place at the Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted St., in the Hoover-Leppen Theater. www.corpuschristi-themovie.com

Check out my archived reviews at www.windycitymediagroup.com or www.knightatthemovies.com . Readers can leave feedback at the latter website.


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