The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Directed by: Stephen Chbosky.
Written by: Stephen Chbosky based on his novel.
Starring: Logan Lerman (Charlie), Emma Watson (Sam), Ezra Miller (Patrick), Nina Dobrev (Candace), Mae Whitman (Mary Elizabeth), Erin Wilhelmi (Alice), Johnny Simmons (Brad), Paul Rudd (Mr. Anderson), Dylan McDermott (Father), Kate Walsh (Mother), Melanie Lynskey (Aunt Helen), Nicholas Braun (Ponytail Derek), Tom Savini (Mr. Callahan), Adam Hagenbuch (Bob), Reece Thompson (Craig), Joan Cusack (Dr. Burton).
There are times when, against all reason, you simply feel like they made a movie just for you. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of those films for me. I find most movies about teenagers to be silly, hollow entertainments – even the good ones – that pretty much forget what it was like to be a teenager – raked with insecurities, shy, nervous, lacking confidence. At least that’s what my teenage years were like – and that’s what they’re like for Charlie, the “hero” of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. No, I wasn’t as screwed up as Charlie was – but I relate to him much easier than most stars of movies about teenagers.
Charlie (Logan Lerman) is about to start high school – and is anxious about the prospect. His best friend killed himself late in the previous school year, and now Charlie is left with no friends. His brother was a football star, but graduated last year, and Charlie doesn’t play. His sister Candace (Nina Dobev) is a senior, and as such doesn’t want to hang around with a loser freshman. So Charlie is all alone- left sitting at a table in the back of the cafeteria, by himself, reading a book – and wanting to join in with everyone else, but having no idea how to do so.
That is until he meets Patrick (Ezra Miller). Patrick is also a senior, but for reasons unexplained, is taking freshman shop class with Charlie. Patrick is different from other seniors – mostly because he is not really popular. When the shop teacher calls him Pattycakes, Patrick tells him to call him Patrick or nothing – to which the shop teacher replies “Okay, Nothing” – and everyone else at the school follows suit and starts calling him Nothing as well. Charlie sees Patrick sitting alone at a football game, and joins him. Soon, Patrick’s step sister Sam (Emma Watson) joins them as well – and Charlie soon figures things out. Patrick is gay and is seeing the captain of the football team, Brad (Johnny Simmons) on the down low. Sam is pretty and sympathetic. Both seem to like Charlie – so he is adopted into their crowd.
The film is written and directed by Stephen Chbosky, based on his own novel (making him one of the few examples of a writer who gets to direct the film version of his own book). The book is better, of course, a little harsher, a little crueler, but Chbosky does an excellent job of adapting it. The book has become a classic of Young adult literature – in fact it fits in nicely with all the books Charlie’s supportive English teacher (Paul Rudd) gives him to read – like The Catcher in the Rye. The book is “controversial” in some circles who deem it unsuitable for teenagers because of Patrick’s homosexuality, the novels frank depiction of sex and drug use and because of an abortion (that has been excised from the movie – most likely because it’s inclusion may have gotten the film a R Rating, meaning the target audience of the film would be unable to see it). But the people who think it’s not suitable for teenagers are those idiots who seemingly have no idea what teenagers today are going through – or for that matter, what they have always gone through.
Like many writers making their directorial debut, Chbosky’s visual style is limited. He pretty much shoots the movie in a simple, straight-forward style – but it’s still effective. This is a movie that relies heavily on its writing and performances – both of which are excellent. Logan Lerman, who I didn’t think much of in Percy Jackson and the Olympians, is quite good here. Shy and awkward, sometimes barely able to get the words out of his mouth, Lerman embodies the movies theme of passivity vs. participation – sometimes sitting back too much, putting everyone else ahead of himself. When he does participate – as in the wonderful sequence where he slowly comes off the wall during a school dance to join Patrick and Sam dancing to Come on Eileen, it’s a thrilling moment. Emma Watson successfully distances herself from Hermione here – although of the three major roles hers is the most underwritten – but that’s by design. Since the movie is told from Charlie’s point of view, and he sees her as perfection personified, it isn’t until late in the movie when we see her as more than that – as a fully, three dimension person. Undoubtedly the best performance in the movie is by Ezra Miller, so good as the teenage psychopath in last year’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, whose Patrick is flamboyant, without going over the top. It would have been easier to make him yet another gay stereotype, but Miller goes further than that – to show the intelligent, sensitive, screwed up person Patrick really is. They are surrounded by a good supporting cast – especially Mae Whitman as a girl who has a crush on Charlie, along with Rudd, who is the type of teacher we all wish we had, and Melanie Lynsky, seen only in flashback, as Charlie’s beloved Aunt.
To a certain extent, The Perks of Being a Wallflower contains many clichés of the coming of age genre. And yet, to me anyway, the film felt fresh, original and fun. Had I seen it as a teenager, I would have loved it even more – but watching it now, as a 30 year old, The Perks of Being a Wallflower made me remember what it was like to be a teenager – and all the good and bad that entails.