Director: Stephen Chbosky
Starring: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Mae Whitman, Melanie Lynskey, Paul Rudd
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a coming-of-age story set in the early 1990s. Emotionally scarred Charlie has always felt invisible. He’s always been on the outside looking in. On his first day of high school he is already counting down the days until it’s over. But when he is taken in by a group of equally misfit seniors, he finds himself in a situation he has never been in before, he has friends, and through them he is able to take the first steps towards putting his past behind him.
Chbosky wrote the cult, young-adult novel of the same title in 1999, and made the rather bold decision to direct the film adaptation himself, despite his experience as a director being limited to one film almost two decades ago. However, his bold decision really seems to have paid off.
While there is a certain level of pretentiousness in their desire to be alternative, it still has an incredible authenticity. For example, the fact that Sam takes such pride in her good taste in music, yet along with Charlie spends the whole film trying to identify David Bowie’s ‘We Can Be Heroes’ seems to ring true of an eighteen year old know-it-all who despite her best efforts still has enormous gaps in her knowledge and experience. That authenticity is really important. So much of contemporary hipster culture is artifice, simply adhering to a set of conventions in order to be cool, even if they are a non-traditional set of conventions. If that was all The Perks of Being a Wallflower work was it would be an incredibly frustrating film, and this group of teens would probably come across as obnoxious and unlikeable. But it isn’t. There is an authenticity to their lifestyle. Their alternativeness doesn’t come from a desire to identify as being different. It comes from the acceptance and embracing of the fact that they are different. Whether as a by-product of their sexuality (Patrick), or as a result of childhood trauma (Charlie) or abuse (Sam), their lives have conspired against them to make them outsiders. Yet they manage to find a place with other different people (the inclusion of The Rocky Horror Picture Show as one of the group’s defining activities speaks volumes).
The performances of the film’s leading trio are fantastic. Logan Lerman’s is impressive as Charlie, providing the film’s emotional centre in a part that either makes or breaks the film. Lerman manages to make Charlie instantly likeable despite his closed off and troubled personality. As Patrick, Ezra Miller provides a fun and flamboyant character without forfeiting his humanity. Emma Watson delivers a career-changing performance which may well become her post-Harry Potter calling car – which is important for her career given that was a decade’s worth of employment she gained on the basis of being a talented ten year old.
There is one element in the story which distracted me. Charlie is a freshman (first year of high school) while the rest of his friends are seniors (final year). That is quite a sizeable age difference for a school context, but it is never really suggested in the film that this is in any way unusual. It is simply not an issue. Yet in real life it would be an issue. Why would a bunch of eighteen year olds want to hang around with a fourteen year old?
Some critics have complained that this film lacks originality, and it is true that there isn’t really anything here we haven’t seen in some form before, but a well-made coming-of-age story will find a way to connect with audiences and it is no surprise that The Perks of Being a Wallflower managed to sneak onto a few best films of 2012 lists. It’s a gem.
Rating – ★★★★☆
Review by Duncan McLean