The Perks of Being a Wallflower (***)

9

A story of the pain and pleasure of the high school experience, there are a lot of things to like about the teen drama ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’. There are also a few issues as well, namely a tonal inconsistency and some odd choices on the part of writer/director (and author of the novel of the same name that was adapted here) Stephen Chbosky, but besides that this is mostly a very strong film. Featuring solid performances from Logan Lerman and Emma Watson alongside a scene stealing supporting turn from Ezra Miller, the movie succeeds due to its acting, emotional honestly, and nostalgia that it’s likely to bring out in both fans of the young adult novel and those who think back to their teenage years spent in the formative halls of a high school. Despite its flaws, I anticipate this being a popular film, if not in theaters than on DVD later this year/next year. I’m not sure that any Oscar love is headed the movie’s way, but it’s better than I was expecting and is the sort of flick that rarely gets made by a studio these days, so that’s certainly something to applaud. I’d be happy if Miller gets some precursor love, but I won’t hold my breath.

Troubled freshman Charlie (Lerman) is starting high school on a bad note. He’s had some emotional issues stemming from a childhood tragedy and no one at his school seems interested in making friends with him. On the first day, only his English teacher Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd) takes a liking to him, something that doesn’t help his depression any. Things get better when he sits next to the brash Patrick (Miller) at a football game, having seen him deflect some meanness from their shop teacher with humor and backbone. Patrick is the first student nice to Charlier, and when Patrick’s step sister Sam (Watson) shows up, he’s struck by her in more ways than one. Soon enough (and after a sad revelation by Charlie to Sam) the three are close friends and Charlie is inducted into their group, which includes Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman) and Alice (Erin Wilhelmi). They’re all seniors, while Charlie is a freshman, and while they all have their happy times and sad times, Charlie still is dealing with his emotional/mental issues, making him a ticking time bomb of sorts. The film makes some honest points about high school, but as much as anything it’s focused in on the bond that forms behind these young people on the verge of becoming adults.

There’s some pretty strong acting depicted in this flick. Logan Lerman is a reliable young actor and he’s given a solid lead role to sink his teeth into here. He underplays the character in a very realistic way, even when given the opportunity to be a little bit on the showy side. Emma Watson is saddled with a bit of the “manic pixie dream girl” role, though she breaks out of those confines on a somewhat consistent basis. You believe that Charlie would fall for Sam, and her chemistry with the entire cast is very good. As mentioned above, Ezra Miller steals the film and continues to show that he’s an actor to be reckoned with. His character gets both some of the funniest and also heartfelt moments in the film. At times he could have become a caricature, but Miller never allows that to happen. The supporting cast is filled with strong character actors all around, with Paul Rudd managing to be the best of the bunch, though the likes of Mae Whitman, Melanie Lynsky, Johnny Simmons, Nina Dobrev, Nicholas Braun, and Joan Cusack in a small role do well too. The rest of the cast includes Kate Walsh, Dylan McDermott, Reece Thompson, Julia Garner, Tom Savini, Zane Holtz, and Adam Hagenbuch, but Ezra Miller walks away with the movie in my eyes. Logan Lerman and Emma Watson are good too, but Miller is a cut above.

My few issues with the movie fall on the shoulders of the book’s author Stephen Chbosky, who adapted the book and then directed his own screenplay. It’s clear that he’s passionate about the story and had a vision, it’s just an inconsistent one. Chbosky is a solid writer, but his directing is a bit on the nose at times and he can never find a tone that he wants to stick to. At times the film gets very dark, but there are also some funny moments as well, just ones not necessarily placed in the right spots. It’s not a huge issue, but it did keep me from embracing the film like I might have had otherwise. I’m curious to see what he does next, but this isn’t a directing job to scream from the hills about. He’s acceptable, but nothing more. His writing is better, hitting on the good, the bad, and the ugly of high school, never devolving into overt manipulation either, so there’s that to help out his cause. We’ll see where his theatrical career goes from here.

Buoyed by some real emotions, strong acting, and a terrific performance from Ezra Miller, I have no trouble recommending ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’. It may not be the dark horse awards candidate that some had speculated about, but it’s still a good movie that’s well worth seeing. I’m sure you’ll be reflecting on your high school career and comparing to how it was (or how it still is for a few of you)…I know I was. The flick isn’t perfect, but the good definitely outweighs the bad here. Give it a shot and you’re likely to enjoy it.

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!