Disclaimer: I didn’t finish the book. I read over half of it before I realised that it was actually pretty screwed up despite being one of the most critically acclaimed and well-known teen books in public circulation today. We WILL get onto that later (I know you want to hear me ranting!) but I’m actually reviewing the film here, which has essentially the same plot but is way better. It’s the story of a ‘sensitive’ boy called Charlie and his experiences at high school. And damn it it’s supposed to be really ‘realistic’ but actually rrgggh it’s completely and totally not for a number of reasons*.
Is it a feminist film? No. I’d love to be able to say that it is, but I can’t because essentially this is a film based on a book that worships at the feet of teenage boys at the expense of teenage girls, and as the film was written and directed by the person who wrote the book (I’m going to get back at you some day, Stephen Chbosky!), they’re pretty much the same thing. The film has a main protagonist- Charlie- and he has two friends, Patrick- who is this thing called a “fully developed and interesting and deep character with his own thoughts, emotions and plotline” and Sam, who is “the pretty, self-sacrificing female character who exists solely for the benefit of the male protagonist”. Sam has in fact been called- not entirely unfairly- a ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’. Have you heard this term? If not, here’s what it is: a beautiful, sweet girl who does nothing but assist the character development of the leading man and was probably abused as a child by her uncle. (Sounds too specific to be a description of more than one character, actually shows up EVERYWHERE.) This is a really delicate subject because while films and books DO need to address stuff like child abuse, what they need to STOP doing is acting like it’s the motivating force in the lives of loads of young women. It’s not. News flash: young women are by turns crazy and kind and mean and wonderful and creative people- just like young men! They’re motivated by a million different things every day, let alone their whole lives. These things potentially include:
- A lifelong dream of being a ballerina
- Finding the perfect comeback for an annoying sibling
- Learning a new skill, like for instance making a perfect vegan lasagne
- Getting home and watching some TV
- Making friends with that really cool person in their class at school
- Just generally ACHIEVING THEIR LONG-TERM AND SHORT-TERM DREAMS
What is the problem with these writers? Why does this same “traumatised young woman” cliche keep popping up everywhere I look? Have YOU ever met her? I’ve certainly never met her!
She really doesn’t exist!
So. That’s one problem. In this film, actually, Sam is played by Emma Watson, which makes her vaguely more bearable- but the fairly obvious trope the writer is fairly obviously going for, whereby she is both sexy and maternal, is just really annoying, to be honest. Even the eternal spirit of Hermione cannot save Sam from the ruins. She’s just not real, to be honest. Another feminist-y problem which arises in the film is the bit where Charlie gets asked out by a cool moody Goth girl called Mary Elizabeth, and doesn’t really want to but agrees out of embarrassment. Previous to going out with the not shockingly charismatic Charlie, Mary Elizabeth is ranty and sullen and creative. But as soon as she goes out with him, she turns into an irritating over-cuddly stereotypical girlfriend, always doing things like ringing Charlie and talking at him for hours, meeting him from the bus and- WORST OF ALL- doing feminist rants at him. Because that’s what girls do, huh? As soon as they switch into ‘girlfriend mode’, they become all possessive and clingy! Of course! And besides, it’s not as if Charlie gave her anything in return for all the attention she misguidedly wasted on him. What did SHE get out of that relationship? Oh yeah, she got turned into a total joke for everyone to laugh out because girls aren’t really people- they’re just oversized hairless Furbies which completely change personality if you tickle them too much or hold them upside down for too long.
As for the production values- yes, it’s well produced, yes, the visuals are pretty gorgeous (although those stars are definitely not real) and yes, I did quite enjoy it. A few aspects were thankfully removed- like the awkward boy-as-hero abortion plot that was shoehorned into the original book- and the performances are pretty good. Logan Lerman and Emma Watson aren’t bad, although the really stunning performance comes from Ezra Miller, who- take my word for this- got given a part that was barely worth noticing in the book, and turned him into 100% the best character in the film.
Is it disturbing? There’s a teeny bit of fighting, and some references to suicide. And (as mentioned earlier) some mentions of child abuse which are actually not fun and should probably be REMOVED FROM THE FILM. Just saying.
And… does it pass the Bechdel test? I mean possibly but if it does then only in the tiniest, most inconsequential barely-a-conversation of ways. So no, basically. No.
Please note! I’d say that while I definitely have some animosity towards the whole concept of this film and its corresponding work of *ahem* literature, and while I wouldn’t imply that watching it would be a better use of your time than, say, reading a book (but not THAT book!), or knitting a scarf, or learning how to blow bubbles with bubblegum… it’s not the worst film that they could have made. I kind of liked it. I just didn’t like the plot very much.
*One of these is the fact that it took three kids about fourteen months to find the song they were looking for, despite the fact that the song was
a) “Heroes” by David Bowie and therefore very famous; have they really never heard it before?
b) Obviously called “Heroes” or whatever just because of the lyrics- I know that in the 90s you couldn’t just google something in two seconds but that detail is hardly very believable.
Well, if you can’t be overly pedantic, where’s the fun in life?