Film Review – The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Young love isn’t the easiest thing to accurately represent. The highs and devastating lows of teenage infatuation have surely and wholly consumed most reading this at some point, and, when depicted well on screen, can take us right back to the pain associated with these confusing times. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, written and directed by Stephen Chbosky (based on his own 1999 young adult novel), revels in this pain so thoroughly one has to assume it’s at least partially autobiographical.
A story with this many swirling adolescent feelings hinges on the believability of its characters, and, on this front, The Perks of Being a Wallflower rarely misses a beat. Logan Lerman, as our central protagonist, Charlie, brings a vulnerability to the film tragically uncommon in actors his age. Built around his confessional letters to an anonymous and unseen peer, Charlie’s story unfolds as he enters his freshman year of high school. The passing of both an aunt and a childhood friend contribute to his lack of social skills, but he soon finds refuge in step-siblings Sam and Patrick (Emma Watson and Ezra Miller), genially coasting through their senior year.
Charlie is embraced, and, at least partially driven by his longing for Sam, finds himself quickly immersed in school parties and cultural touchstones such as mix-tape exchanges and Rocky Horror screenings. (The film never outright gives a year but appears to take place in the late ’80s or early ’90s.) Emma Watson, embodying yet another beloved fictional YA character, plays Sam as a loving wiser-than-her-years senior harboring some secrets. Ezra Miller proves plenty versatile in his own right as the affable Sam, especially given his harrowing titular performance in last year’s We Need To Talk About Kevin. A nice supporting turn from Mae Whitman (Ann in Arrested Development) rounds out the cast of misfits. Their interactions feel entirely natural and brought back powerful memories of my own similar pacts.
As they must, obstacles arise that threaten to tear their bond. We are given brief glimpses of Charlie’s childhood, as well as hints of a darker side he works like hell to suppress. A violent outburst at school suggests we’ve only scratched the surface of his psyche, and yet we never question his motivations. This is all presented with an unrelenting eye for detail, forcing us to sympathize with Charlie even when he steps out of line. We yearn right alongside him as he works to express his feelings to Sam, while also recognizing the potential naivety in such a gesture. Sam and Patrick will soon be off to college, and we begin to question whether Charlie is fit to survive without them. Dramatic, sure, but relatable to anyone who was once a wounded teenager.
If I had to throw out one complaint, it would be about the criminally underused Paul Rudd as Charlie’s English teacher, Mr. Anderson. We’re given hints of the impact he’s had on Charlie via the books he recommends, but their relationship is never fleshed out and we’re therefore robbed of any emotional investment or payoff. Those who fork over the money to see this based on his amped up presence in the trailer may find themselves disappointed by his lack of screen time. The same could be said of Joan Cusack, who essentially turns up for a glorified cameo.
Chalk those up as minor quibbles, though. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a warm, intelligent coming-of-age tale and a wonderful kick-off to the fall season. Let’s get infinite, y’all.
Final Grade: A-
Also, be sure to check out our interview with writer/director Stephen Chbosky.