BY: Stephen Chbosky
DIRECTED BY: Stephen Chbosky
STARRING: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Paul Rudd, Dylan McDermott, Nina Dobrev
RATING: 3.5 stars
"We accept the love we think we deserve." If that isn’t one of the most beautifully heartbreaking quotes in film history, I don’t know what is. Love is the central theme in The Perks of Being A Wallflower, but not in a sappy and over-used way. It's about the various types of love we receive from friends, family, teachers and strangers, and how that demonstration of love shapes us during our formative years. While I had a lot of problems with this coming of age tale, including a lot of unresolved questions by the end of it, the more I reflect on the film, the more I like it. The Perks of Being A Wallflower tried to cover a lot of issues including suicide, molestation, first kisses, first sexual experiences, mental health issues, drugs and sexuality, as well as the usual high school themes of fitting in, prom and exams. It does all of this to varying degrees of success in a raw, uninhibited and emotional way.
Written and directed by Stephen Chbosky, who adapted the screenplay from his own novel, Perks of Being A Wallflower is set around 1991 and centres on three protagonists. Charlie (Logan Lerman) has a lot of issues we aren't too sure about in the beginning, suffice to say he has some serious mental health issues after the deaths of two people he is close to in separate incidents - one in a suicide and one in an accident. A third problem is later revealed that will make you wonder how Charlie is not even more screwed up. He meets step-brother/sister duo Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson) who introduce Charlie to a whole new world of friends, parties and music - including the much beloved 90's mixed tapes. Patrick seems confident and irreverent but is actually an outsider, nicknamed Nothing, and struggling with a gay relationship in which his partner will not admit he is gay. Sam was once promiscuous but is now trying to straighten her life and focus on furthering her studies. The film chronicles a year in the life of the trio as they bond and try to find their path.
The performances from the leads are very convincing. Miller, who scared me in We Need To Talk About Kevin, is equally as emotive in this film and almost stole every scene with his wit. I have no interest in ever watching a Harry Potter film, but Watson certainly seems to be taking her career in a vastly different direction with this role. She is sassy and strong but also has some emotional scenes. Lerman is also very strong. His character is quiet, awkward and troubled, which are difficult things to convey with such little dialogue (aside from his voice over letters in which he says a lot) but he does a great job of encouraging sympathy. Paul Rudd has a small but pivotal role as Charlie's english teacher, showing how important it is to have good teachers to shape a teenager's life. Meanwhile, Dylan McDermott is quite funny in his small role as Charlie's father.
What makes The Perks of Being A Wallflower worthwhile is that it is quirky, heartfelt, honest and unique. Children of the 70's and 80's will also enjoy the pop culture references including the Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Smiths and David Bowie. At times the film is very funny but also takes a very dark turn. Obviously, it is a story dear to Chbosky's heart. Unfortunately, I felt cheated that we never learn the full story about Charlie's past, but I suppose what we do learn is enough to get the point. I liken the film to a modern day Heathers, though perhaps it is not quite as convincing.