“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” will be a relevant book for a long time, and consequently there’s nothing dated about Stephen Chbosky’s unique coming-of-age story now that it has finally hit the big screen so many years later. Anchored by strong performances from its leads and a powerful sense of poignancy, “Wallflower” is a thoroughly meaningful and enjoyable film.
To come clean I’ve never read the book, but when an author tackles his own work as both writer and director, it can sometimes spell disaster. When adapting their own work, the creators of original source material either fail or succeed beautifully; either they can’t do what needs to be done to their baby in order to make it suitable for film or they completely understand how to translate their work. Chbosky appears to have hit upon the latter.
As a director, Chbosky’s strength is capturing the nostalgia of his story, the emotions in particular from the unadulterated mirth to the sad, sad loneliness. With such talented blooming actors at his disposal, the film becomes all about them and we can’t help but identify with them.
The world of “Wallflower” is stereotypical high school, but somehow, even though countless films do the same thing, “Perks” feels authentic. Maybe its the setting of Pittsburgh, the king of blue-collar cities, along with the early ‘90s setting. Regardless of when you went through this phase of your life, there’s something so identifiable in the way this film presents it.
Charlie (Logan Lerman) is one of those protagonists that we all identify with too, and that’s ultimately what makes this story powerful. We all have times when we feel like we didn’t fit in, when we were ignored, when we felt like no one noticed us. And because Charlie wants to have friends, he isn’t afraid to put himself in situations to succeed socially, we like him a lot. He’s not the kind of loner who spurns the world around him.
We meet Charlie upon his first day of high school. It’s rough to be a freshman and Charlie has no friends. None. Everyone he was friends with as a kid has spurned him in some way and his best friend took his own life the previous spring. He’s afraid to do anything to stand out, to embrace what makes him special. Fortunately, he puts himself in position to meet Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson), two seniors who don’t fall into any clique other than their self-described “misfits” label. They are sweet, genuine people (as characters and the actors playing them) and they embrace Charlie. We come to love them in a vicarious way, for reaching out to Charlie as we ourselves would like to.
Another part of what makes “Wallflower” a great story is that while we identify so strongly with Charlie at first, we eventually come to learn more and more about him and to the point that we can’t even truly imagine what it’s like to be him. We both pity him and come to admire him all the more for having a strength we’re not sure we could ever have.
The bulk of the film showcases their adventures, along with Charlie’s growing affection toward Sam and his relationship with other friends in their group. Every little scene evokes something keen, namely what we loved about being in high school. Drama and serious issues crop up too, but with them comes the implicit understanding that these were the problems we faced in high school and even if we would do things differently now, that’s what we probably would’ve done then.
Not enough praise can be given to the trio of Lerman, Miller and Watson for bringing those feelings to life. Lerman is brilliant when it comes to portraying Charlie’s introversion and communicating the mess in his head that we don’t fully comprehend until the end. He should drop the Percy Jackson act and find more indie projects.
After seeing “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” I thought I would never like Miller, ever, and always associate him with that terrifying title role, but he nails the courageous and flamboyant gay best friend, embodying the stereotype and then subverting it. His line delivery cuts the tension at the most ideal moments and he’s the most lovable part of the movie by far.
Sam is the weakest of the main characters, the girl next door with a troubled past that likes all the wrong guys. We’re given her very much as Charlie sees her or any lonely teenager with a crush on the one he thinks he’ll never get sees her. Watson, however, does a nice job keeping Sam’s fragility with her at all times. When she’s happy, it’s an emotional breakthrough, and we get more of a sense of her character on the inside in spite of what the script gives us.
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” doesn’t break ground ground from a cinematic or storytelling perspective, but it does what it does — chiefly appeal to the emotions — as good as any movie out there.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Written and Directed by Stephen Chbosky (based on his novel
Starring: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller