The Perks of Being a Wallflower
2012, 103mins, 12
Director: Stephen Chbosky
Writer: Stephen Chbosky
Cast includes: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Paul Rudd, Melanie Lynksey
UK Release Date: 3rd October 2012
Spawned from the same mould as J.D Salinger’s famed “Catch in the Rye”, Stephen Chbosky’s 1999 novel “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is an engaging, tragic and deeply involving inspection of confused youth. Published over a decade ago, the text has become something of a touchstone within its genre, surprising then that a filmic version has taken so long to come about. Directed and penned by Chbosky himself, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is a largely effective translation of the source, bolstered by two sublime performances from its young male leads. Certain characters who played prevalent and touching parts in the book feel the wrath of the editing suite floor, but on the whole Chbosky has captured the essence of his text successfully within the slightly more confining medium of cinema. Self-professed wallflowers who weren’t around for the book’s inception 13-years ago will likely be smitten by this contemporary adaptation.
Charlie (Logan Lerman in uncharacteristically grounded form) is about to start High-School, and through a series of letters addressed to the audience we find him predictably anxious concerning the experience. Having lost a close confidante to suicide less than a year ago, Charlie finds his lack of meaningful friendships stinging, leaving him relieved when he connects with oddball seniors Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller). Adopted into their clique of “misfit toys”, Charlie begins to see the world in new ways, allowing him to become distanced from familial strife, particularly the painful memories of his deceased Aunt Helen (Melanie Lynskey). However high-school is an awkward time in any young person’s life, leaving the film to grapple with issues of mourning, sexual awakening and the highs and lows offered by any friendship of value.
Both Lerman and particularly Miller are fantastic in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”, gifting the picture a sympathetically complex and warmly rendered pair to hang itself upon. Lerman does a lot of the heavy lifting and executes the task well, the actor usually either too wooden or overly buzzed finding a rare middle ground here, making a promising and much needed indication that he might be growing as a performer. Less surprising is Miller’s excellence, the “We Need to Talk about Kevin” star balancing comedic sass, profound wisdoms and romantic uncertainty quite wonderfully in his turn as theatrically minded Patrick. Fascinating to watch and relentlessly enjoyable to behold, Miller is the picture’s ace card, juicing the screen with a viable sense of pathos and energy in every frame. As Sam, Charlie’s forbidden love interest and companion, Watson is less impressive, failing to generate as much depth within her character as the other principals. She’s superficially cute, and demonstrates a palatable manic pixie dreamgirl quality, but ultimately this is a script demanding of more advanced and ambitious contributions. The ex-“Harry Potter” thespian just isn’t quite yet up for such a task.
At 103 minutes the film tackles the key facets of the source, devoting ample exposure to Charlie’s uneven domestic life, relationship with encouraging teacher Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd knocking it calmly out of the park over just a few short scenes) and ever mutating set of friendships. All of these components are treated respectably and with the same aura of truth that made their chunks of the book so memorable, the author turned filmmaker clearly aware of the hefty themes that have allowed his text to remain conscious within the teenage cultural stratosphere. However fans of the original work might be a little puzzled and underwhelmed by some editorial choices, and those with an appreciation of storytelling are liable to be left merely bamboozled. Aspects of Charlie’s relationships with his siblings are lightly glazed over here, occupying enough screen-time to distract without ever actually providing pay-off. In the novel Charlie’s sister undergoes a turbulent relationship which is hinted at in the movie, but the film never actually allows this portion of the runtime to amount toward anything substantial on a narrative level. It’s devoid of stakes, leaving it an emotionally hollow occupier of unnecessary footage. Similarly by simply taking place in such a visual format, this film version robs the finale of the little nuances that made the book so mysteriously profound. Aspects are unavoidably spelt out that were otherwise ambiguous, but heck, that’s all part of the cinematic game I guess.
There are laughs to be had and tears to be shed, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” harbouring an earnest and gentle tone likely to endear it toward multiple demographics. The performances from the young cast (Sans Watson) are hugely skilled, with the adult veterans adding poised and often vibrant touches of their own. It’s imperfect and for my money inferior to its page-based predecessor, but on the whole Chbosky has made a commendable crack of bringing his thoughtful coming of age tale to multiplexes.
A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012