Written by: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
Movies aimed at the teen market aim for the lowest common denominator; emphasizing found footage or partying as the primary premise. To add a breath of fresh air to the market is Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Based on the popular book of the same name, the author was fortunate enough to pen the script and direct this adaptation which combines the drama of being a teenager with the joy of discovering one’s place and the people within it. Dominated by heavy-hitting performances from Ezra Miller and Emma Watson, I doubt this will be a serious awards contender but it should be!
Charlie (Logan Lerman) lost his best friend to suicide and feels lost and alone as he enters high school. He soon meets the free-spirited Patrick (Miller) and his step-sister Sam (Watson). Charlie soon develops an insulated inner circle comprised of various outcasts and discovers lessons in life and love.
The film’s strongest asset is that it never, ever talks down to its audience. What made Chbosky’s book, and this film, so wonderful is that it understands the frustration of adolescence while not going through the typical melodramatic tropes you see in teen fiction or films (teenage pregnancy, drug use, etc). Here, Charlie has lost his best friend for reasons he can’t comprehend and that, combined with the death of his Aunt Helen (Melanie Lynskey) have sent him on a downward spiral where life just isn’t worth living; a frightening but accurate depiction of teens today. That’s not to say the film is a total downer. While it does have harsh lessons in it, the movie knows when to pull back and let the teens be teens; allowing for plenty of dances and fun moments (including a loving tribute to the Rocky Horror Picture Show).
I cannot praise the acting in this enough, and words won’t do it justice. Ezra Miller runs away with this film as Patrick and I wish he’d get some nomination for it down the line. Patrick is a guy who seems to know who he is, but struggles to understand why others can’t be who they are as well. While this is meant to be Charlie’s story there’s a lot of emphasis placed on Patrick’s character that pushes Charlie out of the picture at times. Regardless, Miller plays the character as a jovial fount of wisdom and fun, but all in a need to mask his inner sadness. He’s complimented by Emma Watson as Sam. Watson’s struggled to assert herself outside the world of Harry Potter, and I think with Sam she’s finally find her niche. Sam has a dark past, with possible allusions to sexual molestation, but she never lets that get her down. She’s confident and breezy but, much like every girl in high school has a problem picking the right guy. Watson has the talent to segue into adult roles and I think this is the right first step for her. Lerman is good but it’s hard to believe him playing such a mild-mannered character. At times he’s almost like a darker Peter Parker. He’s a bit too cute and a bit too sweet for the role of Charlie, particularly when his past is revealed.
While I said previously that the film that doesn’t go through the rote melodrama, it does have moments of cliché. There’s a heavy emphasis on familial molestation that, while not explicitly shown or discussed, does feel overbearing. While it is in the book it just felt like an After School Special moment to cross off the list. As if to say one can only be an outcast when their emotionally damaged. The other thing is that the film runs about 20 minutes past it’s ending. You think the film has concluded and then we enter into a new scene with new characters that feels tacked on and rushed. If the film had clipped something in the middle, it might have felt fleshed out.
As it stands The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a fantastic and realistic film about being a teenager. The dialogue is beautiful, obvious considering the author and the acting is as well. Go see it in the theater whether you’re an adult or teenager, you’ll be able to connect regardless.
Author: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
Kristen Lopez is the editor-in-chief of CC2K and a freelance pop culture essayist. Her work has appeared on Roger Ebert, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Daily Beast. When she’s not burning down Film Twitter she runs two podcasts, the female-centric film show Citizen Dame, and the classic film-themed Ticklish Business.