A funny and touching adventure based on a best-selling novel that has sold over a million copies in the U.S. and has been published in 16 countries and 13 languages, "The Perks of Being a Wallflower
" is a modern classic about a shy, sensitive teenager caught between trying to live his life and escape it.
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Stephen Chbosky's seminal novel "The Perks of Being a Wallflower"
has been the badge of honor for nerds, geeks, and social outcasts for the better part of a decade, connecting with awkward teenagers unsure of their place in the world and providing them with a relatable story of high school insecurity. Beyond just being a cult hit, though, the novel aspires to "Catcher in the Rye"-esque writing as we follow a character not unlike Salinger's Holden Caulfield as he battles with adolescence and introversion. Needless to say the book has a large population of fans, and when talk of an adaptation was brought up, a large outpouring of those geeks and nerds began to cry foul of the idea.
However, this situation is rather unique. Rather than pass off the arguably insurmountable task of adapting his book into a feature film, Stephen Chbosky himself has stepped up to the plate, and put together quite the eclectic cast in order to do his story justice. For our socially awkward protagonist, Charlie, Chbosky has chosen Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson and the Olympians
) to carry the weight of millions of fans' hopes. Fortunately, the relatively untested Lerman has been cast alongside powerhouse young stars Emma Watson (Harry Potter
frachise) and Ezra Miller (We Need to Talk About Kevin
), who play Sam and Patrick. It is with the help of Sam and Patrick - two step-siblings in their final year of high school - that the quiet, reserved Charlie is able to navigate his first year of high school. They take him to parties, dances, and social gatherings, and their constant reassurance allows Charlie to branch out and experience all the joy and pain that comes with being a teenager, even though a few deeper issues challenge his growth at every turn. Like most teens, Charlie must deal with real-world problems, and overcome them if he wants to escape a life of constant solitude, but his inability to make friends or, for that matter, participate in school comes from an unfortunate history that is slowly revealed as the film goes on. Thankfully, Chbosky's film doesn't overplay any scene, or shy away from serious moments - it keeps an unflinching eye on Lerman's doe-eyed Charlie as he experiences (and sometimes struggles with) major milestones on his road to normalcy, from his first kiss to his first break-up.
While a little predictable at points, and featuring a wide selection of what could be considered standard high school stereotypes, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
, as a whole, is an amazing first film, and an even better portrait of the outer circles of high school. The three main characters' observations about the world might be a little more informed than, say, a typical teenager, but their willingness to be surprised and disappointed by all of life's little intricacies is a delight to witness. More importantly, the film evokes genuine emotion as it explores heavy subject matter like depression, child abuse, and homophobia. Topically, the film covers a large area, but its characters feel so real that you buy into each character's "flaws" and find something relatable, and likable, about each one.
There are a few pacing issues in the film, primarily in the latter parts of its second act, but an extremely compelling, discovery-filled first act overshadows most of that unevenness. And once the film takes the audience through Charlie's final days as a freshman, and Sam and Patrick's last days at home, it's captivating and, at the same time, heartbreaking to watch the inevitable happen. Getting an audience to root for a character's success is no simple feat, but the ease at which the smiles, cheers, and tears flow is a testament to Chbosky's sharp script and fully developed characters.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
is Chbosky's novel brought to life, and in a lot of ways the film benefits from cinema's inherent visual storytelling -- allowing the audience to experience Charlie's exposure to new experiences firsthand. POV shots and an oftentimes-brilliant use of music capture Charlie's every emotion, from unbearable enthusiasm to crippling depression. Furthermore, each member of the film's main cast, including bit players like Mae Whitman and Johnny Simmons, are perfect representations of hopeful teenagers struggling to balance expectations. More importantly, though, their interactions with each other work on nearly every level. Perks'
story isn't universal, nor is it completely original, but for the vast majority of people there's something to connect with. If Chbosky's book is the essential '90s coming-of-age novel, than his adaptation just might be the essential '10s coming-of-age film.
The cast of young actors Chbosky has put together each brings something different to The Perks of Being a Wallflower's story, providing the film with a new perspective on the teenage condition. Erin Wilhemli's Alice, for example, - a rich kid who steals ostensibly to fit in - is unlike any other character in the film. Even the adult actors, like Paul Rudd as Charlie's encouraging English teacher Mr. Anderson, are not the judgmental prudes seen in typical high school films, but are understanding figures that have experienced it all first-hand.
But the real accolades should be directed towards the film's three leads: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, and Ezra Miller. Each is fairly exceptional in their own way, and makes their respective characters feel dynamic and interesting. Watson's Sam is strong yet vulnerable - a far stretch from the typical love interest - and is arguably the emotional center of the film. However, Watson's inability to deliver a believable American accent the whole way through is a bit distracting, and could be seen as a major turn-off for some. Ezra Miller's turn as Patrick, the gay underachiever of the group, proves the actor won't be typecast after We Need to Talk About Kevin, but is more than capable of a wide range of roles, even comedic ones. He's by far the most entertaining of the film's cast, but isn't without his moments of vulnerability as well.
And then there's Logan Lerman as Charlie, our broken hero and narrator. Lerman's ability to portray the social outcast is, for the most part, so perfect it's hard not to connect with each and every emotion he feels. Up until now Lerman has been trying to break into more action-heavy roles, but Perks proves he's a brilliant up-and-coming dramatic actor as well, who regardless of genre deserves more opportunities. His Charlie might not be fans' ideal Charlie, but he makes the film his own and is fascinating to watch.