Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.
USA, 2012. Summit Entertainment, Mr. Mudd. Screenplay by Stephen Chbosky, based on his book. Cinematography by Andrew Dunn. Produced by Lianne Halfon, John Malkovich, Russell Smith. Music by Michael Brook. Production Design by Inbal Weinberg. Costume Design by David C. Robinson. Film Editing by Mary Jo Market. Boston Film Critics Awards 2012. Dorian Awards 2012. Independent Spirit Awards 2012. National Board of Review Awards 2012. North Carolina Film Critics Awards 2012. Phoenix Film Critics Awards 2012. Toronto International Film Festival 2012. Washington Film Critics Awards 2012.
It is not that shocking to see a Hollywood movie in which misfit teens are played by actors who are far more attractive than outsiders tend to be in real life, but even when taking that into account, this film still comes off as obnoxiously disingenuous. Logan Lerman plays a teenager who enters a new high school after past emotional problems had him hospitalized. A suicide attempt is hinted at but his emotional problems are not exactly on display, probably in an effort to be sensitive but in effect coming off obscure: he is set up to be the Timothy Hutton character in Ordinary People (complete with imposing jock older brother) but he is barely more moody or uninspired than boys tend to be at this time of life. Lerman becomes the butt of bullying and pranks from the tougher cool kids in his new scholastic setting (despite not seeming all that different from them), but after encountering oddball Ezra Miller and his stepsister Emma Watson, he finds a place where he fits in. His befriending them both is likely the result of them being so inclusive and welcoming, and it’s easy to see why a girl as pretty as Watson would become his new fixation, but we are told he is attracted to her rebelliousness and, other than the fact that she likes eighties music and lets herself be abused by older men, it’s hard to see where that singularity lies. These kids definitely work up enough sympathy to make you care about their toughest moments, but the screenplay and direction are a confused mess, unable to decide if it’s going to be a TeenBeat fantasy or a bold exercise in reality, and Stephen Chbosky, in adapting his own novel, has included elements that may have worked on the page but feel uneven and haphazard on film (particularly the inclusion of a dark and unpleasant revelation in the last third that is ill-timed and almost tasteless in its demand for dramatic sympathy). There’s no lack of talent involved, but everyone is pushing so hard to be meaningful that they come off contrived and manipulative instead.