Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

I guess I should warn for spoilers, even though this was a book first, and a book that was published in 1999, so if you haven't read it, really not my fault if you get spoiled. Also, I don't know if anything in here counts as a spoiler, but you never know what people consider spoilers anymore.

I had the pleasure recently of attending an advance screening of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, based on the novel of the same name written by Stephen Chbosky  (who also wrote the screenplay), starring Emma Watson and Logan Lerman -- as well as handful of other talents whom I had no idea were in this until their names flashed on the screen during the title sequence (like Paul Rudd as the English teacher and Nina Dobrev as the older sister). And despite my snarkiness at the start of this entry, I have not yet read the book. The only knowledge I had going into the screening was that a) it's set in Pittsburgh (a town with which I am infinitely familiar, as half of my extended family resides there) and b) it's sad -- the latter courtesy of one of my friends who is currently reading the book.

As someone completely unfamiliar with the source material, this movie was amazing, truly. It will be hard for me to adequately explain quite how it's amazing, for as often as I rely on words, they tend to fail me when I need them. I sputter incoherently, attempting to string together sentences that sound halfway intelligent and digging into what used to be an exhaustive vocabulary for words with more punch than "awesome". Let me say, if it matters, that there were grown men at the screening who admitted later that they laughed and cried -- at a movie about a bunch of high school kids.

Emma Watson (as Sam) chose the perfect post-Harry Potter role -- her character is almost the complete opposite of Hermione, and she plays her so well that you forget entirely about the proper English schoolgirl she portrayed for over a decade except for that one little bit where her American accent slips but we'll forgive her for that because she's awesome. Logan Lerman is outstanding as Charlie, beautifully understated at falling apart but trying desperately not to. Ezra Miller's Patrick is absolutely enchanting, a kid who can't be serious because then he wouldn't be able to hold it together. These are the kinds of characters with whom you not only fall in love, but also that you miss when the film is over. I found myself eager to see what happened to them after the picture faded to black. Almost immediately after it was over, I wanted to watch it again. The characters spoke to me in a way so few movies can manage. Despite the fact that they're a bit more wild than any of the friends I had in high school, they made me nostalgic for a time when I thought high school was everything in the world, when life after was distant and frightening but high school itself wasn't much better.

The screenplay was insightful and funny and poignant and heartbreaking. It deals with some very heavy material that is absent for most younger actors unless it's in a Lifetime movie or ABC Family series, which would normally be chock full of melodrama, and it deals with these issues in a way that is relatable and believable even to someone who has absolutely no idea what it's like to face any of that stuff. The kids in this story deal with abuse and suicide and depression and being an out teenager, and I think the worst thing I had to worry about was my grade point average. Charlie's voiceovers (as previously mentioned, voiceovers tend to piss me off) fit very well considering the epistolary format of the novel -- also since a great deal of the conflict in the story centers in Charlie's own head, the voiceovers do an excellent job of letting us get a peek inside his troubled mind.

Let's not forget the music. The film's soundtrack is like a secondary character. It makes the scenes come alive, it harkens back to a time when we thought we knew everything. Music tells a story, and the music in this film does a fabulous job of adding to the story.

I'm honestly not sure what else I can say, but if you need any further convincing that this is an incredible movie that everyone should see, perhaps multiple times, then you should know that Anderson Cooper is obsessed with it. And as Anderson Cooper is a perfect human being, you should all like the things that he likes, because he is too awesome to be real.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Stop Blaming Moonlighting!

It's a familiar reference to a lot of shippers: Moonlighting. I've seen the show referenced three times in the last month alone. Once by Teen Wolf creator Jeff Davis in an interview with E! Online discussing the super popularity of the Stiles/Derek relationship, and twice - twice! - in the Entertainment Weekly fall TV preview, both in an article about the return of Castle. It's trotted out whenever writers, producers, creators, even actors are trying to explain why, even though two characters are obviously in love with each other, they haven't yet started dating. You see, they don't want another Moonlighting.

The basic idea is this: Moonlighting was a 1980s dramedy about private detectives starring Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis. Their characters, Maddie and David, had the familiar sexual tension, will-they-or-won't-they relationship that is so common today. They consummated their relationship in season three, which many people feel was too early. After that, the show's ratings experienced a sharp decline, which eventually led to its cancellation at the end of season four. Despite the fact that executive producer and head writer Glenn Gordon Caron has himself said that he doesn't feel that event is what made the show go downhill, everyone else seems to attribute the show's end to the David/Maddie ship becoming canon. (Jeff Davis certainly does!)

I (and probably others) call this the "Moonlighting Effect", and I also call it bullshit. Do you hear me, TPTB? Bullshit. Blaming the declining quality of a show on the relationship between two characters is completely ridiculous. For one, it's insinuating that, once two people get together, they become less interesting. For another, it's laying the blame on the viewers instead of where it should rest -- on the showrunners.

If it were true that people who are in an established relationship are less interesting than people who could potentially date, there would be no established couples on television at all. There are lots of couples who are plenty interesting. Marshall and Lily on How I Met Your Mother are two of my all-time favorite characters, and their relationship is fabulous and funny -- it's also happy and committed. Except for an extremely brief subplot in season two, they have been together the entire series. TPTB, if your writers can't write an established couple that's just as interesting as your not-yet-canon-but-getting-there pairing, then you need to find new writers. Look at Chandler and Monica on Friends. I actually liked the two of them better as a couple, and they hooked up at the end of season four in a series that had a ten-year run. In fact, just look at any series with a married couple -- Modern Family and Happy Endings immediately come to mind -- as proof that relationships can be committed and still entertaining.

If viewers lose interest in a show, if the ratings start to decline, it is up to the showrunners to take a good, long look at the show and go, "What's wrong, and how do we fix it?" It seems to be a recurring theme in Hollywood that no one knows how to make the transition from "will they or won't they" to "they did, now what?" Writers seem to be incapable of maintaining character integrity once a couple starts dating. I have a lot of issues with the Leonard/Penny pairing on The Big Bang Theory for just this reason. In season three, when the two became official, their relationship was one of the worst things about the show. Not because they were dating, but because apparently they both experienced personality overhauls, and not for the better. I won't go into my entire rant about them, but Leonard belittled Penny's beliefs and seemed to view her only in a sexual manner, and Penny constantly made "jokes" about finding a new boyfriend. Whenever their relationship was the "A" storyline, it was because they were fighting. They were always fighting. They were not good together. I danced when they broke up. Now, however, their relationship is much better (though I still don't like them), because they're actually themselves. They're not caricatures that don't make sense, and their relationship is much more organic and entertaining because of it.

Nathan Fillion (who plays Castle on Castle) is quoted in the aforementioned Entertainment Weekly as saying that viewers lose interest when a couple goes canon. I feel that is a dismissive attitude towards legions of fans, writing shippers off as fickle fangirls (or fanboys) who will jump ship once it docks. Granted, I can only speak for myself, but when I ship a couple, I invest a lot of time and energy in the characters -- that doesn't end when they finally get together. Yes, the buildup and the anticipation are fun, but it's not like I go, "Okay, now what else is on?" when a pairing kisses after years of waiting. Most shippers are attached to the characters and the pairing and aren't going to turn tail and run when they finally get what they want. There are plenty of people still interested in the Kurt/Blaine relationship on Glee even after the boys have been together an entire season (and then some). Because it is the characters who keep us interested, not necessarily their relationship status.

(Here is where I would go off on a tangent describing in great detail how I absolutely hate the overused "love triangle" plot device as a way to create drama in an established couple. Kurt and Blaine technically had two in only one season, even though there were a variety of other perfectly normal and not at all ridiculous issues that could have introduced drama into their relationship - Blaine transferring schools to be with Kurt, Kurt graduating a year ahead of Blaine, and Blaine beating out Kurt for the starring role in the musical, to name a few. However, I will spare you the diatribe and simply say this: drama for drama's sake does not go over well with fans, despite what TPTB may think.)

Showrunners are so desperate to avoid another Moonlighting (which is apparently the only television show in the history of ever) that they often drag the sexual tension out for years. As many people feel that viewers lost interest in Moonlighting because they got the characters together too soon, the reverse is also true. I like to call this the "NCIS Coefficient", in reference to Tony and Ziva on NCIS, who have been dancing around each other for approximately eight seasons. It's gotten extremely annoying. Extending a "will they or won't they" dynamic for as long as possible is not the way to keep viewers. For starters, it's unrealistic that two people would wait that long to even make a move. It's also extremely boring. And while Tony and Ziva may not want to violate Gibbs' rule #12 ("Never date a coworker" x), those of us who have been waiting...and waiting...and waiting for the two of them to finally get their act together have gotten tired of waiting.

I am just as interested in established couples as I am in couples that I want to get together. I want to see my ships last, I want to see their relationship grow and develop and mature. There are so many storylines that can grow out of a pairing that has just started a relationship (stories that avoid drama for drama's sake -- Tony and Ziva, for instance, have a ridiculous amount of baggage that would last at least a couple of seasons). Anyone who has ever read fanfic will know that the possibilities are damn near endless. If the writers of a show feel that there's nothing that can be done once a ship goes canon, then perhaps they're not very good writers. They need to stop blaming Moonlighting and start thinking about what they can do to prevent a similar situation when - and it should always be when, not if - their characters start dating.

For the record, very few things will make me lose interest in a pairing, but it has happened before. I was very active in a fandom that shall remain nameless because of a certain ship, yet after the ship became canon (acknowledged by the writers and producers in many interviews but not very evident on the show itself, oddly) there was a storyline that led to the guy cheating on the girl. I don't know about you all, but I can swallow any plotline (even cheating, though I deplore it in real life) as long as it's sold to me in a believable manner. This was not. The whole storyline was, in my opinion, poorly done, simply drama for drama's sake, and the character was ruined for me. I stopped watching the show because of it. What angered me was not necessarily the actions of this character, but more the fact that the couple barely had any time to even be a couple before they were going to the extreme "we need more drama!" plots.

If you want to keep your viewers interested, TPTB, then do the pairings justice. If it's natural for a couple to get together, then they should get together. If they don't last, then they don't last. If they start to get stale, have one of them get a new job or lose a family member, or have them go apartment hunting or, god forbid, acknowledge that they're in a rut and they should do something to spice up their love life, or even break up (to perhaps get back together later, like Ross and Rachel). And if cheating is on the menu, at least make it make sense. Don't toss it into the mix because you've already run out of ideas for a couple that's barely half a season old.

My point is, stop using Moonlighting as a crutch. Just because it didn't work on Moonlighting (whose collapse can be attributed to a variety of factors, including limited screen time between the two leads in season four, which defeats the entire purpose of getting them together, but whatever), doesn't mean it won't ever work again. Because it has worked. It can be done, TPTB. It can be done well. So suck it up and do your jobs!