'Perks Of Being A Wallflower' – More Angsty Than Perky
How can a movie tastefully depict teen angst without exhausting its viewers? This is the challenge that The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the film adaptation of the novel by Stephen Chbosky, who also wrote and directed the film, constantly wrestles with. Perks occasionally finds itself bogged down with too much moping to keep it moving at an engaging pace, but still manages to strike with moments of genuine heartache and raw portrayals of the growing pains every teen seems to face at some point in his or her life.
Charlie (Logan Lerman) is a troubled outcast coming off a stint in the hospital after his best friend committed suicide. Now his goal is to shake his unstable reputation so he can survive, and possibly even enjoy, his first year of high school. He struggles to fit in with the "popular crowd," but he forms a fast friendship with his English teacher Bill (Paul Rudd), and soon latches on with Patrick (Ezra Miller), a spunky and rebellious senior stuck in freshman Shop class, and his outgoing, but complicated stepsister Sam (Emma Watson). Patrick and Sam spend their free time performing The Rocky Horror Picture Show and driving the highways of Pittsburgh late into the night. It seems Charlie, who incessantly reads and writes like a man beyond his years, is the perfect addition to this group of “misfit toys,” as Sam calls them.
Perks explores the universal predicaments of many 15-year-old kids: Charlie overcomes his fear of school dances, experiences his first high school party, tries his first pot brownie, attracts his first clingy girlfriend Mary-Elizabeth (Mae Whitman), and wrestles with the pain of his first love, Sam. But like many friendships, Charlie’s relationships grow complicated and challenging, and the film’s lighter fare and hopeful tone make way for the grim pasts of many of our lead characters, perhaps none more so than Charlie’s — delivered to us through a series of flashbacks each more distressing than the last.
Perks is both breezy and fun, and heavy and depressing. This context provides adequate territory for the film's leads to explore, and Lerman and Miller don't disappoint. But the real beneficiary of the film is Watson, whose solid turn as Sam, a free spirit with a long sexual history, safely distances herself from her Harry Potter background.
Patient viewers will be rewarded with Charlie’s growth as a character, and the heart-wrenching ending carries the film to a dramatic crescendo. But the story drags at times on the way, and Charlie’s angst and self-effacement border on old hat by the film's midpoint. Consequently, Perks does not aggressively set itself apart from the great teen movies, failing to reach the heights of, say, The Breakfast Club and Juno, but it most certainly belongs in the mix as one of the better coming-of-age films in recent memory.