#5: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Directed by: Stephan Chbosky

Starring: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, and Ezra Miller

High school isn’t for everyone.  It wasn’t my favorite time of my life, at the very least.  It was a time that I couldn’t wait until it was over and I was in college.  Now, as I plan on celebrating my 10-year high school reunion, I’d give anything to be that age again, no matter how awkward, shy, and poorly dressed I may have been.  The Perks of Being a Wallflower encapsulates the feeling of being an outcast so gracefully and so pitch-perfect, that for anyone that ever felt out of place, you’d kill for friends like the ones Charlie aligns himself with.  It’s only when you start feeling happy and enjoying the movie that it pulls the rug out from you and travels to some very dark places.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower can trace its routes to John Hughes and as a fan of the late director’s films, I can appreciate everything he laid the groundwork for.  The film follows young Charlie as he traverses the pitfalls of being an emotionally and socially awkward freshman.  He quickly is befriended by Sam and Patrick, both seniors, but outcasts in their own right.  Charlie fits in with their circle of friends and becomes instantly in love with Sam.  The film follows them along the school year: from school dances to high school parties, from football games, to performances of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.  As most high school movies do, it focuses on relationships of these characters as they struggle to find the identities that they are growing into.  Unlike most high school movies, this film packs the emotional punch that sets it apart from the rest and puts it in the running for one of the best films of the year.

Not every movie high school kids goes to the depths this film does in the characterization of its leads and this is where this film absolutely succeeds.  The three leads are complicated and slightly damaged.  Charlie, for example, carries enough baggage for all three characters.  Like Bradley Cooper’s character in Silver Linings Playbook, Charlie suffers from what appears to be a bipolar disorder (though I can’t remember if it was explicitly named) brought on by traumatic experiences of his youth.  I haven’t seen Logan Lerman in anything prior to this, but he gives a performance that is reserved and vulnerable at the same time.  He is the wallflower that the title speaks of and we see watch the film through his passive eyes.  He, and by proxy we, experience everything with a slight disconnect, like an introvert taking everything in, probably writing the memoir as it happens.

In her post-Hermoine career, Emma Watson has picked a wonderful project for her first high-profile release since the phenomenon.  Admittedly, of the three leads in this film, her character has the least amount of heavy lifting, but that is not to say her character is undeveloped.  Her Sam character seems to have it all figured out, but when it comes to love, can’t seem to get it together.  She lets herself be used and emotionally abused by boyfriends.  She performs for her friends while in the tight-knit group, never letting anyone see her with her guard down.  That is, until Charlie comes into her life.  This is the side no one gets to see but him, which is the main reason he falls in love with.  And as an audience member, it’s hard not to fall in love with her as well.  She has grown into quite a beautiful girl and her has the acting chops to follow the same career trajectory as a Keira Knightley or Natalie Portman.

As good as those two are, Ezra Miller really steals the show in this film.  I can’t say that I’ve ever seen him in anything, though I hear great things from his performance in We Need to Talk About Kevin, but here, as the flamboyant Patrick, he is truly remarkable.  It’s an uninhibited performance, for the most part, as he plays a high schooler so comfortable in his own skin that you cannot help but be jealous of such confidence.  Underneath it all, however, he’s just as fragile as the rest of them, desperately wanting to be loved, or at the very least, just wants to be accepted for who he is.

First-time director Stephen Chbosky handles his own source material with the care that you’d expect from an author adapting his own novel.  He allows the performances to speak for themselves, not trying to overdo any sort of camera tricks or directing get in the way of the story being told.  This allows the emotion to hit where it is supposed to hit, which makes this film such a success.

As mentioned, this film tackles a few dark subjects, some of which I won’t delve into here.  It’s an honest and at times heart-breaking look at what it can mean to be a kid caught between the responsibilities of near-adulthood and the naiveté of youth.  It delves into the pain that can go along with mental disorders, homophobia, and the expectations of early sexuality.

For another review of this film, head on over to Off the Mark Thoughts, who ranked it as the top movie of 2012.