There is an honesty to The Perks of Being a Wallflower, a genuineness of experience that makes the movie soar when it just as easily could have stumbled.
Terrific performances by three young actors don’t hurt, nor does writer and director Stephen Chbosky’s handling of the film. This is probably not a surprise, because it’s based on his novel of the same name. It charts the course of the difficult freshman year of high school in 1991 of a boy named Charlie, played by Logan Lerman.
There are tragedies in Charlie’s past, involving an aunt and his best friend, which haunt him still. He struggles to keep a grip on things, we learn from the letters he writes anonymously that function as some sort of therapy and from chats at dinner with his family. Medication can keep some of his troubles at bay, but he is always aware that he teeters on the edge of… something. Even he isn’t sure what.
Whether this contributes to Charlie’s nonexistent social status can’t really be known, but it doesn’t help. He is one of the ciphers who haunt the edges of the hallways, hanging onto their lockers like life preservers. His older brother got a football scholarship to Penn State and his older sister is a senior, but this doesn’t really help Charlie’s situation.
Then one night at a football game, a smart-aleck senior named Patrick (Ezra Miller) asks if he wants to sit next to him. Patrick is in Charlie’s shop class and lives to torment the teacher. Soon a beautiful girl named Sam (Emma Watson) joins them. She and Patrick are so in sync with one another, Charlie naturally assumes they’re a couple. But no, Sam is Patrick’s stepsister.
And Charlie’s first love begins.
Of course, Sam has a boyfriend and a bit of a past. And she just wants to be friends with Charlie, so far as he can tell. But not in that horrible “I just want to be friends” way that kills any future relationship. She and Patrick really do want to be friends with Charlie. They, and their little gang, which includes the hilariously assertive Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman), are outcasts in the stratified world of high-school social life, and they welcome a fellow traveler. It’s a damaged group, everyone with his or her own issues or baggage; an “island of misfit toys,” as Sam describes them.
They also seem like the cool bunch to hang with. They make and share hip mix tapes, experiment with drinking and drugs (in what does seem like an experimental, not abusive, way), and make regular visits to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. They also navigate the choppy waters of adolescence and high school as best they can, which means not without difficulty. There are ups and downs for everyone, and Charlie’s course is especially tricky; not only is his mental health fragile, but he is also a freshman whose friends are mostly seniors. All of this necessarily will come to an end.
Lehrman, who is best known as the title character in Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, is far better here, balancing the excitement of finally fitting into a group with the difficulty of staying there, while trying to keep himself together. Watson graduates from the Harry Potter franchise into a nice role in which her character, despite seeming so perfect to Charlie, must overcome her own doubts and fears. Miller, meanwhile, is best of all, his barely closeted Patrick hilarious and heartbreaking. It is an astonishing departure from his role as the severely troubled boy in We Need to Talk About Kevin.
The movie is best when that core of three characters is together, even in the over-obvious scenes in which they take turns standing in the back of Patrick’s pickup, blasting through a tunnel out the other side, flying and free as David Bowie’s “Heroes” blasts from the radio, achieving the epic stature it’s always deserved.
Much ado is being made over the fact that Joss Whedon directed his modern-dress Shakespeare adaptation Much Ado About Nothing while taking a 12-day break from postproduction on The Avengers.… more »
Destruction is scary, but not half as scary as the act of rebuilding, the moment of looking at the random, jagged pieces you’ve got left and wondering how the hell… more »
The seemingly exhausted gross-out comedy genre gets a strange temporary reprieve with This Is the End, an unlikable but weirdly compelling apocalyptic fantasy in which a bunch of young stars… more »
Characters are frequently urged to “release the beast” in The Purge, a high-concept home-invasion shocker set in a future where one night a year all crime is legal. But what… more »
The human brain is a marvelously suggestible organ.
With the right encouragement (or chemical assistance), we’re capable of seeing sex orgies in inkblots, ghosts in windows or a waistline 20… more »
There’s one key truth that separates the tank-topped gearheads of the Fast and Furious movies from the rest of us. Every problem these lugnuts face can be solved by doing… more »