The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Unless you were captain of the football team or head cheerleader, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is going to resonate on some level with you. How much is debatable, but this is without question, one of the most poignant dramas concerning high school life since the golden era of John Hughes. Teen angst is a subject often mined in the cinema. The subject arguably hit a commercial peak in the 1980s with generational classics like Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink. But Perks goes much deeper. It’s less humorous and more warmly accessible. An updated version of those films circa 1991 but made in 2012. The story is involving because it seems timeless – not of any particular time or place but of an experience and that experience is high school. Though fashions and music may change, the attitudes remain familiar. Insecurities are laid bare and exposed in a way that is both believable and at times heartbreaking.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a novel written in 1999 by Stephen Chbosky. Frank and mildly provocative, it has appeared on the list of most frequently banned books in libraries and schools, but so has Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Catcher in the Rye and To Kill A Mockingbird, so I suppose it’s in good company. The author takes the old adage “if you want something done right, do it yourself” to heart as he not only adapts his book into the screenplay, but directs the entire movie. Who better to convey the teen angst of the source novel that the author of the actual words? Surprisingly, he proves to be an adept director as he extracts honest performances from his young leads. Actor Logan Lerman is Charlie, a sensitive and withdrawn freshman unskilled in the social scene of high school. Sharp moviegoers might remember him at the titular character in Percy Jackson & the Olympians. As acceptable as he was in that adaptation, he completely nails the personality here. He is likeable and sweet and despite his better than average looks, still conveys the miserable sad sack that is required here. He eats lunch alone, gets bullied by his peers. He wont even offer the correct response in class when he clearly knows the answer.
Logan Lerman is matched by two key co-stars. Taking the same shop class is a senior named Patrick played by Ezra Miller. As the sassy best friend he dazzles in a showy role that deserves to be his breakout. An eccentric personality, he likewise doesn’t quite fit with in-crowd and the two of them strike up a friendship. Completing the trio they form is Patrick’s stepsister Sam portrayed by Emma Watson. She subverts her English accent here to play an American teen. I’ve seen the competent actress in eight Harry Potter movies, yet I have never witnessed her give a more emotionally impressive performance than the one she gives in this film. They share a camaraderie that is incredibly touching. Watch them boogie down when the three of them unite at the homecoming dance. It’s awkward but tender. You might even wish you were part of their inner circle. Charlie is soon introduced to their cohorts and this “island of misfit toys” becomes sort of support group for him.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is about a journey. The trek of a young freshman as he navigates high school saddled with his emotional baggage from the past. His befriending of these seniors that are outcasts as well, allow him to get through this incredibly difficult episode of his life. True, the script is admittedly highlighted by some well worn tropes often found in literature. Charlie, Patrick and Sam could all be identified as familiar character types. However to label them as such is to reduce their impact. This is a an affecting take on high school life that feels authentic and sincere. The sentiment is real. You may not identify with these people, but you can certainly appreciate the dramatic weight of their pain. This is for anyone who has ever navigated the horror of high school. In other words, it’s for pretty much everyone.