Review: 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower'
BY MICHAEL SMITH World Scene Writer
Friday, October 12, 2012
10/12/12 at 4:39 AM
I went into "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" having been unable to escape hearing more than once a reference that's out there: "Perks" will remind you of a "John Hughes movie."
That reference is out there for a reason. "Perks" does possess such a spirit, in that this is a truly special picture about teens and their high school experience, and its story is told in ways that remind of "Sixteen Candles," "The Breakfast Club" and "Pretty in Pink."
"Perks" is seriously teen-smart, and it's filled with relatable "I've been there" moments of euphoria, angst and longing. It is intimately aware of the melodrama that is the teen experience: Every event is either the end of the world or the defining moment of a lifetime - no matter how little experience with life they have yet accrued.
What makes this movie quite a different experience is the density of its dark tones, dealing with issues of mental health, suicide, homosexuality and other teen experiences in the early 1990s that Hughes' innocent films didn't dare approach as comedies in the 1980s.
But these moments are equally relatable, too, and because of that fact I think that "Perks" will have similar staying power to Hughes' films in the teen-movie pantheon - but as a drama with comedy that makes you laugh just before you were about ready to cry.
Now I know why the novel's author, Stephen Chbosky, held out on a movie being made until he could write the screenplay and direct - the man knows what his book-on-film should look like. He pulls no punches when it comes to the harsh realities confronted by Charlie, his introverted protagonist.
Logan Lerman delivers a diverse performance that I didn't see coming from the star of "Percy Jackson & the Olympians." As the boy who has never forgotten his aunt's death on his seventh birthday and whose best friend shot himself before they could begin their freshman year of high school, Lerman's Charlie is a shy, intelligent, lonely ball of confusion attempting to blend in with the lockers in the hallway.
This is not a performance that people will target for parody later because of mentally ill histrionics; rather, this is a remarkably controlled portrayal by a young actor, with a bubbling-beneath-the-surface quality that makes us believe that Charlie is barely keeping it together.
Despite his parents' concerned looks, his being a target for seniors and his visions of his aunt that don't quite add up, he is keeping it together - but he needs a friend.
Lerman's restraint as Charlie is a clever contrast and a nice match for the bright-eyed Sam (Emma Watson) and her outspoken stepbrother, Patrick (Ezra Miller), a pair of seniors and fellow "misfit toys" with their own issues who take Charlie under their wing.
As they introduce him to parties, pot and "Rocky Horror" sing-alongs, Chbosky allows this to cover some familiar ground in the teen experience on film, but he keeps his bottom line honest. This is neither a story about a boy finding love and getting well, nor is it as simple as a "don't worry-be happy" solution.
Charlie's challenge is in getting better through incremental amounts of personal growth. This happens through a sense of belonging - yes, making good friends is vital - that helps people find their place in the world.
Chbosky's gift is in making such rooted development entertaining on film. This is accomplished through an era-specific soundtrack of power-pop inspiration and perfect break-up music (the Smiths catalog), and through the script's vivid depictions of young love, from moments of bliss to examining why good girls date bad boys to kill-me-now-to-make-the-pain-go-away moments.
Chbosky's epistolary novel creates some challenges for his screenplay that will leave some viewers confused (Charlie's confessional letters to a stranger, for example) about the framework. Watson's character seems more unattainable than approachable, but she looks like she's having fun. These are among only a few flaws.
Lerman's performance is matched by Miller, whose work in the disturbing "We Need to Talk about Kevin" was creepy enough that I didn't anticipate the laugh-out-loud comedy he creates through Patrick, a sarcastic youth with his own deep confusion about the closeted football player with whom he's having an affair.
No, "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" is not exactly a "John Hughes movie." But it knows enough to model itself on that mold and find it has even more to say about the process of moving from adolescence to adulthood.
Parents confident in their teen's maturity should allow them to attend. Parents with questions should consider accompanying their teen to find answers.
‘THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER’
Cast: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson,
Ezra Miller, Dylan McDermott, Paul
Theaters: AMC Southroads 20, Cinemark
Tulsa, Starworld 20
Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes
Rated: PG-13 (mature thematic
material, drug and alcohol use, sexual
content including references, and a
fight — all involving teens)
Quality: (on a scale of zero to
Original Print Headline: Teen spirit
Michael Smith 918-581-8479
Logan Lerman (left), Ezra Miller and Emma Watson star in "The Perks of Being a Wallflower." JOHN BRAMLEY/Summit Entertainment, LLC