A coming-of-age drama about an awkward teenager who struggles with self-confidence before finally being accepted into an eccentric circle of friends sounds like a typically clichéd teenage movie. However, The Perks of Being a Wallflower far exceeds its general outline, just as its central character’s timorous disposition transcends the realms of everyday teenage angst.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the movie adaptation of Stephen Chbosky’s first novel of the same name. Chbosky has also written the screenplay for the film and the proficiency and poignancy of the script is both admirable and touching in equal measure. The movie encompasses the entire emotional trajectory of teenage life, beginning in moody isolation and progressing to relieved acceptance, before dwindling into desperate depression and emerging as a happy camper once again.
However, don’t let its roller-coaster-like tendency scare you into thinking this is another clichéd teen-flick, because Wallflower is punctuated with deeply moving, important and personal events, from child-abuse and death, to internalised homophobia.
Set in 1991, Wallflower tells the story of Charlie (Logan Lerman) – a gifted, but tormented 16-year-old freshman who has just started high-school and survives by writing letters to an imaginary friend, while consoling himself with the fact that he only has “1,305 days left.” At a football game, the anxious and awkward Charlie meets with Patrick (Ezra Miller), who introduces him to his step-sister Sam, played by Emma Watson, who clearly managed to get a transfer from Hogwarts. Soon the three friends become inseparable and the shy and timid Charlie is introduced to Patrick’s and Sam’s friends and ironically becomes the centre of attention amongst the group.
However, from the opening of Wallflower, we are made aware, through subtle and implicit references that there is a dark underpinning to Charlie’s anxiety. This is achieved through flashbacks to his aunt’s death, references to his best friend who committed suicide and foreboding lines such as “I think I’m getting bad again.” With his new group of friends, Charlie is inducted into the “island of misfit toys” and therein experiments with drugs and alcohol. However, his introverted disposition hints at something greater and more worrying than an abashed personality. It speaks to a deep-rooted psychological issues and one of my only criticisms of the film come from its exposition of Charlie’s problems. Without revealing too much about the film, the resolution to Charlie’s case is ever-so-slightly too fleeting and wishy-washy for my liking, but I tended to overlook that because Lerman’s performance was subtle and brilliant, his delivery impeccable and his thoughtful depiction of character was spot on.
I’ve got to admit, not having read the book (which, subsequently, has been ordered on Amazon), I went to see Wallflower primarily to see how Emma Watson was adjusting to life sans Harry et Ron and as she organises her life around The Smiths and other brilliantly chosen soundtracks, as schoolgirl Sam, she doesn’t miss a single beat. Fittingly, Sam is struggling to escape her reputation as a coquettish young girl, just as Watson tries to escape typecasting. Both are equally successful. Personally, Lerman is front and centre as the star of this production with his subtle and attentive delivery, but Watson isn’t far behind with her beguiling beauty and punchy personality. Hermione Granger who?
Completing the trio is Ezra Miller as Patrick, the gay step-brother to Watson’s Sam, who happens to be secretly dating the college jock. Though camp, brash and impossibly confident, Patrick’s sensitive and vulnerable side is touched upon in a key scene from the film. In the spirit of antithesis, Patrick offers a counterbalance to Charlie’s character, but in the aforementioned scene, Miller subtly portrays him to reveal a young boy who is; at times, exposed and lonely.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower treads very close to near-perfection, albeit in a very formulaic way, however, there are slight downfalls to Chbosky’s screenplay. The minor characters are severely underdeveloped and at times, totally glossed over. Charlie’s English teacher, Bill Anderson (Paul Rudd) discovers Charlie’s potential as a writer, but the movie fails to sufficiently develop Rudd’s character – perhaps a reflection on the fact that Mr Anderson is failing to recognise his own dreams of becoming a writer and settling for a relatively unfulfilling life as an English teacher.
The film is characterised by all the metonyms of teenage life – experimentation, awkward school dances and feelings of desolation and elation, and even though it may not be a trailblazing or pioneering film, what it does do is tell a familiar story in an honest, yet subtle manner. Logan Lerman anchors the film as he expertly manoeuvres and portrays the oftentimes strange, worrying and infinite changes of the teenage heart. A must-see!