The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) / Drama
MPAA rated PG-13 for mature themes, drug and alcohol use among teens, sexual content, and some violence (originally rated R but appealed)
Running time: 102 min.
Cast: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Paul Rudd, Mae Whitman, Dylan McDermott, Nina Dobrev, Johnny Simmons, Kate Walsh, Melanie Lynskey, Nicholas Braun, Tom Savini
Small role: Joan Cusack
Director: Stephen Chbosky
Screenplay: Stephen Chbosky (based on his book)
Review published April 20, 2013
Stephen Chbosky (screenwriter of Rent and director of Four Corners of Nowhere) writes and directs his own 1999 semi-autobiographical cult-favorite coming-of-age novel of the same name. The book had been written largely as a series of letters written by its protagonist to an imaginary recipient, but Chbosky, who introduces the epistolary device in a couple of scenes, mostly proceeds in a mostly straightforward narrative style for the film version.
Set in 1991 (Well, the book is. The film is a bit more ambiguous.), the tale predominantly follows an introverted and morose high school freshman named Charlie (Lerman, 3:10 to Yuma), who, on day one, is literally counting the days down to his graduation. Things begin to take a turn for the better for the social misfit when he befriends a smart-alecky senior named Patrick (Miller, We Need to Talk About Kevin), as well as Patrick's equally reformed-but-still-spirited stepsister, Sam (Watson, Deathly Hallows Pt. 2). Patrick is comfortable with his own sexuality, but his lover, the star QB of the football team (Simmons, Scott Pilgrim), is not. Meanwhile, Charlie has a major crush on Sam, but Sam is seeing someone else. Meanwhile, Charlie has some emotional problems of his own he is struggling with that his newfound experiences are bringing to the surface.
Although a bit romanticized, Chbosky does manage to still convey a touching, sensitive portrait of the formative teenage years, dealing with the many issues that plague high schoolers even today. First kisses, school dances, school cliques, sexuality and drug use are all part of the mix.
Charlie is not only a shy student in a school full of strangers, but also is still recovering from two traumatic losses, with the sudden death of his beloved aunt (Lynskey, Win Win) when he was much younger, as well as the recent suicide of his best friend. It all takes its toll, as he begins to experience blackouts and starts seeing things, enough to have people wonder about his mental health. Chbosky's handling of the serious mental problems of Charlie make their way into the story with increasing instances, though the seriousness of them feel a bit less weighty than they probably should especially when he begins to discover how events in his childhood he had been suppressing are suddenly coming to the fore.
Percy Jackson's Logan Lerman delivers an impressive performance as Charlie. A short-haired Emma Watson puts on her best American accent in a fine non-Harry Potter role. Paul Rudd (I Love You Man, Role Models) is fine in a relatively rare dramatic role as benevolent English teacher Mr. Anderson, while most of the scenes are stolen by Ezra Miller as Patrick. It does occur to me that he does look somewhat like a young Alan Rickman as Severus Snape, which does give his appearance with Emma Watson a different vibe than perhaps is intended.
The film starts off well, and coasts its way with good characterizations and a terrific (if somewhat out of place for its time) soundtrack, only coming close to falling apart from emotional turbulence during some revealing moments in the films final few scenes. Many will find the film reminiscent to the works of John Hughes, particularly Pretty In Pink, but Chbosky puts enough of himself into his story to give it his own spin. The 'wallflower' aspect of Charlie's personality is perhaps underplayed in the movie version of the story, as it seems to take him little time to make friends and become one of the more hip, popular kids in the school.
Teen dramas are tricky to do, especially as they often lack authenticity to speak to the current generation. While Chbosky's tale is a bit glossy and out of touch, strictly speaking, with the pulse of today's youth, or even that of 1991, there is an earnest, soul-searching quality that emerges that does seem to ring true, even if it occasionally feels punched up for audience palatability. Certain scenes, such as the penchant for many of the high school kids to not only regularly attend, but to actually flamboyantly perform in drag and lingerie at midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show seem inauthentic or overly embellished.
In the end, what's most identifiable is the message of tolerance for ones fellow classmates. High school is a mixed-up, crazy time for most, as kids struggle to fit in with others who are also looking for their path. Add sexual urges, drug experimentation, peer pressure, and family strife issues into the equation, and one can see that there are many moving parts in play. The Perks of Being a Wallflower may lack for realism, and it may play out its small and personal story with heavily nostalgic hindsight, but it sensitively speaks volumes in its themes on how to embrace not only the person we are, but also the people we are not.
©2013 Vince Leo