On paper, The Perks of Being a Wallflower sounds like a typical “coming of age” film: Troubled, insecure Charlie (Logan Lerman of Percy Jackson & The Olympians) navigates his first year of high school, becoming friends with a pair of outcasts (Emma Watson and Californication’s Ezra Miller,) falling in love and dealing with the terribleness that is being a teenager. The film, an adaptation of Stephen Chbosky’s novel, actually possesses a bit of a hard edge, dealing with rather weighty issues, while also having a sense of fun and energy that comes with adolescence. It is not an afterschool special or a teenage soap opera.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower takes place sometime in early-1990s Pittsburgh, where Charlie is a freshman in high school, friendless and only making a connection with his English teacher Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd) on his first day. One of his old friends, Brad, (Johnny Simmons of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World) drifted away from him and became one of the football team’s best players. Another friend of Charlie’s killed himself the previous year, which only exacerbated Charlie’s mental issues that have him on pills in the beginning of the story.
Charlie eventually falls into the sights of step-siblings Patrick (Miller) and Sam (Watson.) The two eccentric teens take Charlie in under their wing, guiding him through high school. Coupled with Mr. Anderson’s encouragement in his writing, Charlie’s mental state and confidence improves throughout the year, despite some bumps along the way. Charlie begins a relationship with one of Patrick and Sam’s friends, Mary Elizabeth, (Scott Pilgrim and Parenthood star Mae Whitman) who proceeds to dominate the relationship and irritate Charlie to no end, leading to one of the worst break-ups imaginable during a game of Truth Or Dare.
Lerman drives the film forward as Charlie, with Miller and Watson backing him up. Emma Watson is thoroughly impressive. She’s not a Manic Pixie Dream Girl who demands love from Lerman; her character genuinely cares for Charlie, even when he fucks up royally when dumping Mary Elizabeth. Whitman and Simmons are also excellent in their roles.
Miller’s Patrick plays the livewire that coaxes Charlie out of his shell, and he does a great job of it. Both Miller and Watson bring a lot of youthful energy and emotion to the film, but it’s Miller who stands out. He’s not just a goofball though; after some trouble involving his closeted boyfriend Brad (Simmons,) Miller gets dramatic without being mopey or angry. Briefly, Patrick lets himself get down, and it works; you feel for Patrick.
Stephen Chbosky, author of the novel and the film’s director, filled the movie out with a terrific cast. Lerman plays Charlie’s fragility and naïveté well without becoming too melodramatic or dopey. He’s not just a dumb kid who doesn’t know what to do or a tragically damaged child.
Along with Rudd, Chbosky also stacked the film with Kate Walsh and Dylan McDermott (both of Grey’s Anatomy fame) as Charlie’s parents, Vampire Diaries’ Nina Dobrev as Charlie’s ineffectual sister Candace, Pittsburgh fixture and horror film vet Tom Savini as shop teacher Mr. Callahan, and Two and a Half Men’s Melanie Lynskey as Charlie’s deceased Aunt Helen. Their roles are relatively small, but they’re just as important to Perks as Lerman, Miller and Watson are, particularly Lynskey.
Perks is not just a drama; it also has its funny moments, such as Charlie describing Mary Elizabeth’s many annoying tics, Patrick’s mental games with Mr. Callahan, and the goody-two-shoes act of Candace’s boyfriend known as Ponytail Derek (Nicholas Braun of Red State.) The music is also pretty good; the highlight of the film being the iconic scene featuring Charlie, Sam and Patrick driving through a tunnel into Pittsburgh, listening to David Bowie’s Heroes, which sets the tone of the movie early on.
Overall, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an excellent “coming of age” film that’s not corny or over-the-top dramatic, while also being a fairly accurate depiction of growing up. You will not be disappointed.