Movie Review: ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ has Plenty
In a sea of sameness and conformity, it’s only the truly unique that are able to distinguish themselves.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower, writer/director Stephen Chbosky’s film adapatation of his nouveau-classic novel, opens in limited release Friday. Set in the early 90s, Perks follows the story of its narrator, Charlie (Logan Lerman), the wallflower of the title, but it does a lot to stand out from the crowd of high school fare.
Charlie is a freshman in high school, repeating his first year after missing it due to being interred at a Mental Hospital following a breakdown. Charlie is incredibly introverted to the point where he refuses to raise his hand in English class despite being offered extra credit for his answers and eating alone at lunch with a book.
He eventually decides to break out of his shell by striking up a conversation with Patrick (Ezra Miller), a fellow misfit from his shop class. Patrick quickly accepts Charlie into his circle where Charlie immediately develops feelings for Patrick’s stepsister Sam (Emma Watson).
Through his new group of friends, Charlie begins to feel again, experience joy again and become more like a regular kid as he begins to reconcile some of the demons that put him in the mental hospital in the first place.
However, he does find it impossible to completely escape the memories that led him to that dark place as his new openness gives way to suppressed memories that threaten to turn him back into the person he was before.
On its surface, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a typical film about teenage ennui and the depression and alienation that comes from high school. But when layers are unpeeled and more is revealed about its characters, we find a film that seeks to give us a broader view of overcoming severe damage and the process of healing.
Every teenage character in Wallflower has suffered trauma on some level. The way in which the film reveals the pasts of its characters is so smart and subtle that it would undermine its structure to disclose any of that information, but as we grow with these characters, it becomes apparent that we’re dealing with very damaged human beings who’ve become “wallflowers” and “misfit toys” due to no fault of their own.
With this at its core, Wallflower becomes a much more mature film than the typical high school yarn. It also becomes more universal. Demons come into our lives at different times and exorcising them can occur at any point. As this becomes the film’s focus, it allows Wallflower to extend its reach beyond the pigeonholed “High School Drama” and become a richer character study that works without its protagonists ages being that crucial.
The characters are rich, and performances match. Lerman does staggeringly subtle work as Charlie. The control and nuance he shows in allowing us to feel introversion is incredibly skillful and shows an ability not previously seen in films like Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.
Watson and Miller also shine as stepbrother and stepsister. The more we learn about their characters, the richer their performances become as they develop their characters right along with the writing. The lead trio in this film play individually play their parts so well that together they make truly beautiful music.
Another substantial character in this film is its soundtrack. Culled from the late 80s and early 90s, Chbosky masterfully chooses his tracks to promote his themes and they add a depth to the film that couldn’t be found in a traditional score. Both diegetic and non-diegetic music permeates every frame, giving the audience a sense of time, place and a feel for where these kids are – allowing us a reference point for that moment in our own lives.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower could have blended in with the high school movie crowd, but the richness of its characters, the unusual way in which it develops them, and the overall dedication to a thematic focus of the film allows it to distinguish itself in the best of ways.