Writer Stephen Chbosky took on a great deal when he decided to direct his best-selling young adult novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Though there might have been a few minute flaws, the end result is truly exhilarating, and produces a new contender for this generation’s signature coming of age film. While set in 1992, and based on Chbosky’s own life experiences, the themes of this movie are even more resounding to me – someone who has been out of high school a few years, looking back on the fears, emotions, and situations that plagued my own high school experience.
Though a slow build into the main plot, the overall structure of the movie is significantly more complex than one would expect for a fairly novice director, and the young, although rather experienced cast, lends to the depth that the story demands.
High school freshman Charlie (Logan Lerman) is in a tough spot. After his last year in middle school, he is without friends as he enters the beast that is high school. While he thrives in the classroom, and loves his English teacher Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd), he desperately looks to fit in with people his own age. In his shop class, he observes senior student Patrick (Ezra Miller), who makes a point to ensure the freshmen feel welcome in a rather oppressive environment. On a whim, he approaches Patrick at a football game, and finds himself caught up in the rather magnetic personalities of Patrick and his step sister Sam (Emma Watson).
Charlie’s high school experience is largely shaped by his relationship with Patrick and Sam, and their circle of friends, Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman) and Alice (Erin Wilhelmi). Their openness to his joining their group gives his confidence a serious boost, and his emotional well-being significantly increases. As we all know, high school isn’t all smiles and good times, and when he make a critical error in judgment, the friendships rupture, and his emotions plummet, sending him into a dark place.
The rest of the movie as a acts as an unfolding of Charlie’s past experiences and current struggles, all while working in some poignant subplots of sexuality, friendship, and self-advocacy.
The plot of this movie deals with some very heavy subject matter, but in a nuanced way, that allows the audience the ability to decipher events and emotions, rather than having them spelled out for them. Such is a difficult task, and relies heavily on the actors’ ability to portray emotions effectively, something that is done beautifully in this film.
Emma Watson is one of my favorite actresses, and I am so very glad she’s been able to break into other film roles after the Harry Potter franchise ended. Often, great talent is overlooked because of their familiarity in such a branded enterprise, but Watson shows her immense versatility in her role as the effervescent Sam.
Logan Lerman’s acting career is fairly thorough, even for his young age; and his propensity for delivering a relatable character is truly a gift (although he looks too old to be believable as a high-school freshman).
The supporting performances of Mae Whitman, Dylan McDermott, Kate Walsh, and Paul Rudd all add a great deal of depth in their various roles. Still, the most resounding performance was that of Ezra Miller as Patrick. Though his character would be likable if played by another actor, Miller succumbs wholly to the role of the off-the-wall role, and delivers the performance with such charisma, you find yourself wishing the story delved more into his experiences. Though his character is gay, he shies away from the stereotypical flamboyant behaviors (perhaps since this is set in 1992, after all), and concentrates on making that a piece of Patrick’s identity and working outward, rather than focusing on merely that facet of the character.
I had high hopes for this movie, and usually I am sorely disappointed when I place such expectations on a film; however, this is one of those films that delivers the audience a true taste of the human experience, rather than a desensitized, Hollywood version of normalcy. It makes me feel good that we wallflowers finally shine in a film, rather than the glamorized “popular” kids that so often get the starring role. This is one that I will definitely be seeing again.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower – 8.5/10