Director: Stephen Chbosky
Cast: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Mae Whitman, Nina Dobrev, Johnny Simmons and Paul Rudd
Plot: Charlie (Lerman) starts high school, his life made miserable by bullies and traumas from the past. Then he starts hanging out with a group of seniors.
The Perks of Being A Wallflower is a strange film in the sense that it spends most of its running time underselling itself. On the surface, this is just another teenage high school film based on a novel. To give an idea of the film, the novel it is based on was from the 90s and, before the production company hired the author, Stephen Chbosky, to direct it himself, it was supposed to be John Hughes comeback movie. So far, so steeped in cliché. However, there is much more to this film than meets the eye, its focus on a freshman working his way through high school quite a generalisation of what the story is actually about. The signs of ‘more’ are present throughout, albeit burning in the background. Logan Lerman’s quiet protagonist is restarting high school after being released from a mental health care institution over the death of his aunt. His sister, Nina Dobrev, gets slapped by her boyfriend. While Chbosky’s film hones in on a shy boy’s crush on the wacky oddball girl at school, Emma Watson, there is a lot of interestingly deep material on the peripheries of the story. This is easily this film’s biggest problem. As interesting as it is, for a long portion of the film, you are getting niggled by the fact that The Perks Of Being A Wallflower spends a lot of its time doing nothing. It is filled with fun scenes like where Logan Lerman stands in for his friend’s Rocky Horror Picture Show performance and has to let his crush perform a sexy dance singing ‘Touch Me’ in front of him or a beautifully-shot scene where the three heroes drive through a tunnel in the dead of the night, singing to a song they don’t know on the radio. This film is very likeable, but it feels as though it is trying to be more. When it hits the final twenty minutes, it does reveal its hand with a jaw-dropping trick that will truly pull the rug from under your feet. To call it a twist would be under-selling the power of the moment; it is more of an unexpected slice of characterisation. What it does do is make The Perks of Being A Wallflower stand out from the rest of the genre, although when condensed into the epilogue, perhaps it doesn’t so much escape the crowded teenager movie, as much as pull the wool over the critics’ eyes.
With its big moments kept to the end, it is left to the actors to make this film as powerful as it does. Logan Lerman’s character is a restrained one, the shy new boy at school, meaning that the actor is purposefully subdued for most of the time. But this doesn’t hurt the film, because it leaves way for the two heavyweight supporting stars to steal the show with great abandonment. Ezra Miller is instantly charismatic, tearing up scenes as the insanely funny best friend figure. He is characterised by the fact that he doesn’t care what the world thinks of him, letting remarks from bullies about his homosexuality bounce off of him harmlessly and wearing high fashion clothes to school, despite the taunting. However, Miller refuses to let his part descend into cliché, fighting to keep the stereotype above water. As the film progresses, his energy begins to wear down and it is truly upsetting to see Miller’s fun hero get more and more subdued, despite his best efforts. Emma Watson is a stranger performance to critique. At first glance, she is a total misfire of a casting choice. When she first emerges on-screen, she strikes as a British actor, trying to put on an American accent and play a more promiscuous character. While she has her queue of teenage boys following her after wowing as Hermione, with her hair cropped, she doesn’t quite strike the viewer as the party girl that inspires love at first sight. However, the truth is Emma Watson is best when her characters have somewhere to go. Hermione grew with each instalment and, as critics argue she is the weak link in the Beauty and the Beast movie, it is suggested that she isn’t strong with the bare bones of a character. Perks of Being A Wallflower sees her grow on you, as the script takes her to better places. The ropey accent becomes less of an issue, the party girl stereotype grows into an actual character and she turns into the big draw of this film. However, it turns out that Logan Lerman grabs the final say, after all. His character may not have the energy of Watson and Miller, but he is easily the most relatable. That friend who is so determined to make sure his friends are okay that his own life is put on the backburner. As he spends money he doesn’t have on Christmas presents that pull his mates from bad life choices and dates girls he doesn’t truly love, rather than hurt them, Logan Lerman’s Charlie is the nice guy to the extreme. Lerman’s performance is well measured, knowing that the strength of the character is the emotions that aren’t shown, rather than the feelings he has on his face. However, it isn’t until the ending when you realise just what demons are lurking in Charlie’s cupboard. Then Lerman gets a chance to do some proper acting. He doesn’t disappoint…
Final Verdict: The Perks Of Being A Wallflower might be patience-testing at times, but strong performances and a solid ending make it worth checking out.