Screen Savor: Wallflowers and “Wise Kids”

Putting the fashion and anachronistic issues aside, writer/director/novelist Stephen Chbosky’s film adaptation of his own book “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” (Summit) is worth watching for the performances by scene-stealer Ezra Miller and a nuanced Emma Watson. Because they are both so good, it’s possible to overlook some of the movie’s time-challenged flaws.

Wallflower and high school freshman Charlie (Logan Lerman) is recovering from a difficult spell in the early 1990s. His late Aunt Helen (Melanie Lynskey), with whom he shared a dark and inappropriately intimate secret, haunts him years after her death. There’s also a friend he mentions his who killed himself. But wait, there’s more. Charlie is about to enter the hallowed and hellish halls of a new school.

Preferring to blend into the scenery, Charlie is taken under the wing of English teacher Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd), who offers literary guidance. Then, surprising even himself, Charlie makes friends with queer senior Patrick (Miller) and in turn Patrick’s stepsister Sam (Watson). Suddenly, the kid who preferred solitude, reading and writing finds himself in a series of social situations that he never could have predicted.

With increased social acceptance comes great responsibility. Some things he masters, such as keeping secrets (including when he walks in on Patrick kissing one of the stars of the football team). But he struggles with other social graces, such as how to break up with a girl (he has the bad judgment to do it during a game of Truth or Dare). In case you didn’t see it from a mile away, Charlie also falls in love with the lovable Sam. Sam, who’s only interested in older guys, treats Charlie with kid gloves, which only increases his feelings for her.

As Charlie blossoms, his past and the present converge. He finds himself unable to cope. His newfound social status isn’t what he thought it would be and everything, including his friendships, begins to look bleak for him. There are (borderline new age) lessons to be learned about accepting “the love we think we deserve,” however the real lesson has more to do with the power and value of friendships. Not a perfect movie, but one that nevertheless has enough “perks” to make it worthwhile to watch. Blu-ray special features include digital and ultraviolet copies, audio commentary by Chbosky, Miller, Lerman and Watson, deleted scenes and more.

Religion has been making its way into recent indie LGBT films. From dismal disappointments such as Ash Christian’s “Mangus!” to the Shumanski’s “Blackmail Boys,” it’s a topic that isn’t going away, especially in light of the way the community is treated by religious extremists. You can add Stephen Cone’s amazing “The Wise Kids” (Wolfe/Cone Arts) to the list and place it at the top of the list as the best of the current crop.

Set in Charleston, South Carolina, in a community with strong ties to the church, “The Wise Kids” begins in April as music director Austin (Cone) is conducting rehearsals for the Passion play. One look at Austin and your gaydar will go off, in spite of the fact that he’s married to Elizabeth (Sadieh Rifai). It’s also obvious that Austin is in love with Tim (Tyler Ross), a gay high school senior who is heading off to the New School in New York to study film in the fall.

Tim’s best friend Brea (Molly Kunz), the preacher’s daughter, is totally cool about Tim being gay. The same can’t be said for classmate and religious zealot Laura (Allison Torem), who virtually has a nervous breakdown when she finds out Tim is gay and of course vows to pray for him. Brea, who is going through a crisis of faith, becomes closer to Tim (even applying to and getting accepted at NYU), which puts a strain on her friendship with Laura who is, as you might suspect, going to a Christian college.

“The Wise Kids” takes us all the way through December, with stops in May and August, as the trio of friends, as well as the members of their respective families, come to terms with the changes rapidly occurring in their lives. The wonder of the film is the way that every relationship rings true. From Tim and his father (and siblings) to Brea and her father to Austin and Elizabeth and even Tim and Austin, there is never a false note. “The Wise Kids” is a brave and, yes, wise achievement. DVD bonus features include a pair of featurettes.