REVIEW: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Directed by: Stephen Chbosky
Written by: Stephen Chbosky (screenplay & novel)
Starring: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller and Paul Rudd

The high schoolers in The Perks of Being a Wallflower are much, much cooler than you.  They are trapped and also largely defined by their pasts just as much as their pop cultural tastes, and so is the movie.  It is an earnest, emotional journey to the beginning of identity, and while it is engaging and at times beautiful, it occasionally bogs itself down with pretension.

It helps that it was adapted and directed by the same man who wrote the original, seminal ’90s novel, Stephen Chbosky.  The dimmed, warm look of many of the evening social scenes lend his movie version an ominous glow.  Many high school movies, especially comedies, are drained of almost any visual element, but not Wallflowers.  Some of the school scenes feel a little tight and generic by comparison, but that may be intentional.

Chbosky’s on-screen stand-in, Charlie (Logan Lerman), doesn’t really have any intentions at the beginning.  He is a freshman in high school, he has no friends and he has trauma tucked away like so many other suburban teens that appear on screens.  When senior step-siblings Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson) take Charlie under their very hip wing, his problems evaporate, at least temporarily.

With more experiences there are always more problems, and one of the best things about The Perks of Being a Wallflower is that it doesn’t shy away from that.  Abuse and repression plague all three of the central characters and other side ones as well, and they seem bound and determined to bury it in mild drug use and bad relationship choices.  Lerman, Miller and Watson bring all of those bad decisions to life in ways that are refreshing and unsentimental.

High school concerns seem adolescent when looking back, but they were real at one time, Chbosky rather persuasively shows us.  What hinders that argument is how bright the futures are of these angsty white teens.  If they can overcome trauma and learn to deserve love, they can go to Harvard, NYU and Penn State.  Charlie’s parents are loving and supportive, so he makes it, and both he and Chbosky know this.  There are many who don’t, though.

Charlie fancies himself the next Kerouac, and his friends and his English teacher (Paul Rudd) all believe in him.  The letters he writes in a journal and later on a typewriter are to a non-existent “friend.”  These make up the entirety of the book (which I haven’t read) but the movie thankfully plays out very well as a straightforward narrative, unlike the movie version of On the Road.  Patches of awkward, forced pop culture rambling are thankfully overshadowed by the movie’s bruised, beating heart.  
The best of the soundtrack, a dance to “Come On Eileen” and a couple well-done Rocky Horror Picture Show reenactments, work because they appear organically and aren’t worn by the characters like merit badges.  Some of the spunky dialogue I’m also sure played infinitely better on the page than it does here.  Despite all that, it’s not hard to see why Chbosky wanted to take his much-lauded work and bring it to the screen (besides obvious financial gain).  He wanted to live out the story and find performers who could really bring it to life, and he wanted to do it before someone else screwed it up. 
Grade: C+

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