Charlie (Logan Lerman), is a loner kid starting high school. Two of the cool kids, Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller) take him under their wings, and show him into their world.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is based on Stephen Chbosky’s novel of the same name, and marks the second time that the writer has stepped into the role of director, after 1995’s The Four Corners of Nowhere.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower immediately feels familiar; we have seen films like this before, and the film definitely is reminiscent of Garden State and has touches of The Virgin Suicides. This familiarity is one of the films strengths, however, as it reminds the audience that they have lived a similar experience to that which Charlie goes through in the film.
Charlie is a loner kid; his brother is the popular jock, his sister is took old to be seen in school with him and his best friend committed suicide the year before. Logan Lerman allows Charlie to be an outsider, and someone who is constantly amazed that he has found his way into a group of people that are so willing to accept him for who he is. Lerman also allows the character’s issues to bubble under the surface until a seemingly ordinary event brings suppressed memories to the surface.
This is Emma Watson’s second film since the end of the Harry Potter franchise last year, and the good news is that she is growing as an actor and is infinitely better on screen than she has been in the past. Watson creates Sam as a light and seemingly carefree young woman, and her relationships with those around her seem to be honest and warm. When last we saw Ezra Miller he was terrorising Tilda Swinton in We Need To Talk About Kevin. This time out, his character is loud and bubbly and just a little bit fabulous. It is great to see that Miller can do carefree as well as creepy, and his fragile yet brash performance binds the film together. Each of the characters is hiding something about their past, and it is this that informs their teenage hedonism and almost forced gaiety.
The adults that back up the teenagers include Paul Rudd as an influential teacher, Dylan McDermott, Kate Walsh and Joan Cusack. The rest of the teenage dreamers are made up of Mae Whitman and Johnny Simmons.
Director Chbosky handles the film well, although it could be said that he is a little too close to the material to be able to make tough decisions. The focus on the soundtrack and the friendship between the characters works well for the most part, but once the issues that plague these seemingly carefree teens begin to come to the surface, they are not given the same focus as the joy these people get from one another, and this leaves the film feeling one sided. The exploration of darkness could have been a wonderful balance to the light, but Charlie’s issues are never more than mentioned, and this leaves the audience begging for an explanation. That aside, however, Chbosky directs his cast with a light touch – although it feels as though he has borrowed stylistically from other directors – and the story is sweet, warm and filled with nostalgia such as mix tapes, first kisses and finding that first friend who understood and accepted us.
In all, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a warm and gentle film that explores those first intense friendships and the feeling of being accepted and loved. The film could have benefitted from a deeper exploration of the lead character’s issues, but as it stands, it is a look back at finding the line between childhood and adulthood, that is filled with nostalgia and warmth.