Saturday, December 22, 2012


What Americans like the ones in this movie call high school is different from what we call it here. Here it starts after primary and the average kid is thirteen, going from being what feels like world monarch in grade seven to untouchable leper in grade eight. The temporal distance between your first day at high and finishing senior appears to the kid on the first day as an interminable Sysiphusian penal code.

Here the ignorable dickheads of primary school are goon squads of blinkered conformity. There are genetic monsters who take P.E. and grown up gamma minuses who take Tech Drawing. Embittered harridans of History and Economics whose talons and villanous laughter press home the grinding truth that there is no fair combat. But worst of all there are the popular teachers. These bearded or beaded (this was the seventies) narcissists were experts in using the social weight at the top of the pyramid to press down on the lower orders until everyone is word perfect in the pledges of local allegiance and pecking order. In the midst of this are teachers who carry their vocation like an old valise, comfortingly outmoded and dependable, and seem as easy dealing with sociopathy as perceived talent in their charges. I treasure their memory today, even though it can be obscured by the maelstrom of hatred and special pleading of most of the other memories.

I shouldn't complain. Things really improved for me after the first two years (which weren't that bad anyway, to tell you the truth) and I didn't mind the flack when I felt it as I was the offcentre type to begin with, only feeling the need to belong when ... well, that's kind of what this story is so I'll get back to it.

Charlie writes a letter to himself, saying that he will begin dealing what high school will be like by imagining his last day. He walks in slow motion through the corridor scale ticker tape parade. You, I and Charlie already know that his first day will be a flop. No spoilers possible there. But there's something that feels very wrong for the first good while of this film and it was making me uneasy in my seat.

After his first day when he makes no friends beyond the benign attention of his new English teacher (a pleasantly subdued Paul Rudd) in a few believable circumstances he is in with the quirky crowd, completely and utterly accepted with no faux pas nor overplayed hands. When the moment comes when he is toasted by the effusive Patrick (a post-Kevin Ezra Miller) his response:"I didn't think anyone noticed me." Comes after a lot of shared experiences including what will be this movie's iconic moment, a ride through a tunnel to the strains of David Bowie's Heroes. After all that he whispers something so self-effacing it sounds disingenuous. But it's meant to sound modest and poignant. Everything feels floppy here and doesn't feel like it's going to gel and take wing but will slop down to a Wes Anderson-like cute fest.

It doesn't, though. Charlie's personal issues with his family develop (yes develop, not turn into narrative ambushes) and take root, giving even the timidity of his personality more cause than it began with. This material also allows some real gravitas to the rest of it and soon enough the whole cutsey avalanche of novelist phrases - "Welcome to the island of misfit toys" - is placed within the naivete of adolesence. When the twist arrives (and we have indeed been expecting it, thanks be for decent writing and pacing: novelist adapted and directed) its effect is profound and flows understandably from the preceeding mood. And Charlie (Logan Lerman) gets a chance to do more than emote as a wisp o' the will. His performance at this point is impressive and informs the rest of the film.

So, while there aren't the kind of storms and occasional cornucopiae o' bliss that I remember, this is a gentle tale of big dark things that, once it hits its stride eradicates the indulgent cuteness that many lesser films focussing on the same area too easily give in to. Also, one particularly big moment involving a fight concludes in a way that I, curiously, imagined as a written scene from a novel. Odd thing is that it works a treat.

Something for summer about a time of personal change that everyone has lived through or soon will? It's not The Tin Drum but it's better than it promises to be.

PS - While I don't have the same problem some others have about these kids who can name songs by the Smiths and Cocteau Twins but don't recognise Heroes when they hear it, I still say humph and happily show my age by declaring that Heroes was one of the big anthemic songs when I was at high school. Like Pretty Vacant it managed to be quite culty and erase the sounds of Hotel California with a terrible might.

1 comment:

  1. I don't remember how I came across this title but it had been in my wishlist since last few years. I looked for this book in the stores outside but in vain. Then came flipkart to the rescue. Along with this was the prompt and excellent delivery service of flipkart.

    Now coming on to the book. Even though I read this book just after watching the movie I thoroughly enjoyed it. The book tells the ups and downs and the emotional upheavals of a fifteen year old kid 'Charlie'. This is the story of innocence, simple thoughts, purity, friendship, finding a zone of belonging in and much more. I am going for a second read because there is so much I could pick from and relate even though I am in my mid twenties. Also during the reading you will come across names of various novels and books which one can explore later on. Read the book but don't come looking for a thriller or romance. Some may find it little slow but those who will enjoy it, the book is going to grow on you with time. Have a happy reading :)