Do overs

Do overs

‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ and ‘Looper’ take a look back at the past and the future

By Carl Kozlowski 09/27/2012

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Nearly everyone wishes they could go back in time to some point in their lives and have a “do over,” the chance to start over again and have a better result. And for most of those with that desire, high school is undoubtedly one of the times they wish they could change.

Two new films this weekend offer plenty to think about for those who harbor such fantasies. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” depicts the lives of three social outcast high schoolers — a depressed guy, the reformed promiscuous girl he has a crush on and her gay step-brother — in 1991, while “Looper” is an intellectual science-fiction thriller featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a time-traveling hit man given orders to kill his future self, Bruce Willis.

While they’re entirely different types of films, both “Perks” and “Looper” are so expertly made and unpredictable they are both likely to find spots on my personal year-end 10 best list.

Based on a young-adult novel by Stephen Chbosky considered by some to be a modern-day “Catcher in the Rye,” “Perks” benefits immensely from the fact that it is written and directed by Chbosky himself.

In taking the reins of the film that depicts a fictionalized version of his own time in high school, Chbosky has fashioned a movie that actually stands strongly in comparison to the ‘80s teen-film classic “The Breakfast Club.”

“Perks” focuses on Charlie (Logan Lerman), a high school freshman trying to survive harassment from older and bigger students by blending into the walls, i.e. being a wallflower. He is desperate for friends, since his best friend shot himself the prior spring, and finds acceptance through a flamboyant gay senior named Patrick (Ezra Miller in a star-making performance) and Patrick’s beautiful yet mysterious step-sister, Sam (Emma Watson in her first major post-“Harry Potter” role).

As Charlie learns to navigate life, caught between his quiet nature and the living-out-loud spirit of his new friends, the film alternates between touching and witty moments, all of which unfold in realistic and surprising fashion. It is rare to see American teenagers depicted with intelligence and sympathy outside of the classic John Hughes films of the 1980s, but “Perks” should score big with a new generation eager for a sense of belonging, as well as anyone who ever wished he or she could have fit in just a little bit more.

Meanwhile, “Looper” is bound to score on a blockbuster level as an action-packed yet intelligent thriller that plays mind games with the audience, asking them to answer a classic dilemma: If you could go back in time and kill a truly evil person, like Hitler, as a child, would it be the right thing to do?

The film stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Joe, a man living in a dystopian future America who kills people for the mob, traveling through a time-travel loop to catch his targets by surprise.  

It’s a life that pays well and provides plenty of shallow comforts in the forms of drugs and easy women, but Joe is clearly unhappy with his life. The pace at which criminals are being sent to kill others is accelerating and so are the closings of loops — assignments in which killers are sent 30 years into the future, or their future self is sent back 30 years to the present, so that they kill themselves, closing off the time loop when their assignment list of other murders has been completed. If loopers agree to shoot and kill their future selves, they are rewarded with all the gold they need to live well and are granted 30 years of happy living before their termination date.

When Joe learns of the true horror of his job, after allowing his best friend to be killed by the crime bosses when his friend refuses to kill himself, he becomes disgusted with the looping process. When his older self (Willis) appears before him, he’s so shocked to see his future self that Willis knocks him out and escapes, leaving young Joe subjected to being chased by the criminal forces and killed if he’s caught.

Old Joe, meanwhile, knows that a young boy from the future will grow up to become a notorious crime lord named The Rainmaker, and so decides to stop the kid from surviving to adulthood. As Old Joe tracks down and kills two city-based kids who are possible candidates for becoming The Rainmaker, young Joe is hiding on a rural farm with the third possible child and vows to save him and the woman who’s raising him, no matter what.

For young Joe knows that if given the chance, the child has the potential to become a good and noble adult who could change the world for the better. Thus, the race begins, with parallel stories showing the old and young Joes in their own respective races against time.

This may sound incredibly complicated, but writer-director Rian Johnson’s ingenious script and direction keep “Looper” accessible to adult audiences while keeping a fast pace. The performances by its lead trio of actors are uniformly strong, the effects are spectacular and the film is a true rarity: an action film with genuine intellectual and moral stakes. n

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