Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Keeping "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" from being just another coming-of-age tale is the breadth of tough issues this sweet surprise of an adaptation touches on along with top-notch performances from a trio of young actors. This is Stephen Chbosky's second feature having written the screenplay for 2005's "Rent," and now he's adapted for the screen and directed his own best-selling young adult novel, which focuses on a group of Pittsburgh misfit teenagers navigating high school circa 1991. Chbosky's handling can be a little uneven at times, but whatever he may lack in finessed skill he more than makes up for it in sheer passion and intimacy, which makes "Perks" so honest and endearing about the struggles and joys of adolescence.

We're introduced to Charlie (Logan Lerman) just as he's about to enter his freshman year of high school. The poor kid is constantly trapped in his own mind with recurring thoughts about his best friend who committed suicide and a traumatic experience with his late Aunt Helen (Melanie Lynskey). On his first day and the days to follow, Charlie sits alone at lunch where residual friends from middle school won't even acknowledge him. His sister, too, is too preoccupied with her pony-tailed boyfriend to help him find friends. He's in over his head with waves of teenage angst crashing all around him. The first friend he does make is Mr. Anderson (a wonderfully understated Paul Rudd), his advanced English teacher who watches Charlie's growth potential with a watchful eye and kindly lends him his favorite classic books.

Mr. Anderson tells Charlie that he should speak up and participate in class. This in-class lesson translates to Charlie's predicament in the real world, as well; that is, in order for him to be happy, he must no longer be a passive observer but participate in his own life experiences. Otherwise he gets wrapped up in his own doom and gloom.

Enter Patrick (Ezra Miller), a sardonic senior who makes a name for himself by openly mocking the teacher in shop class. He also serves as Charlie's gateway into real friendship. Mustering up the courage to sit next to him at a football game, Charlie also meets Patrick's best friend and half-sister, Sam (Emma Watson). They let him into their group because of a commonality they perhaps don't even realize exists yet. Each of them have some pain and anger pent up. Patrick's frustration stems from dating a closeted football jock, and Sam is tired of falling for guys who don't treat her right.

Though she appeared in last year's British drama "My Week with Marilyn," this marks Emma Watson's first foray into American filmmaking -- and her first use of an American accent. She nails the role of the beautiful and down-to-earth Sam whose demons lurk just beneath her porcelain skin. As good as she is, it's a testament to Ezra Miller's talent that even up against a post-Hermoine Watson he manages to become the real scene stealer. The theatrical fun-loving nature of Patrick is a thin veil covering his inner battle of not being able to openly express his sexuality the way he wants to, and Miller's performance captures this. Even more astonishing is the young actor's range considering he's otherwise known for playing the deeply disturbed son of Tilda Swinton in "We Need to Talk About Kevin."

"The Perks of Being a Wallflower" is both painful and uplifting about Charlie's freshman year experience which translates to not only universal themes about attending high school but about life relationships in general. This wider scope comes from not watering down the material to pander to a specific teenaged viewership, even in spite of a PG-13 rating. It's also a movie that knows and understands the unique bond friends have when it comes to the special hangout spot or that perfect song that comes on the radio at just the right moment. For this outcast trio, it's what they simply refer to as the "tunnel song." In this iconic scene, Charlie feels infinite, which is empowering for him because his new friends are only ephemeral, moving on with their lives going away to college. Charlie's freshman year was but a fleeting moment where he, for once in his life, felt like he belonged.


  1. This was one of the movies I was really looking forward to seeing this - sadly, it's not playing in my area. One of the appeals for seeing it was the trailers reminded me of John Hughes movies - who doesn't love those? I'm happy to see you gave this four stars, since there's been a lot of mixed reviews.

  2. There's a lot to like about Perks, but I just couldn't shake the feeling that much like its main character, this movie is little more than an empty shell.