It makes you feel so young
By Jen Chaney
Friday, September 28, 2012
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” takes us to adolescent places we either know or remember very well.
We recognize the heart-fluttering first crush and the angst that only a song by the Smiths can adequately capture -- if not from our own anxious, SAT-score-obsessed high school experiences, then certainly from decades of absorbing coming-of-age movies.
The familiar material in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” will be especially recognizable to those who have read the revered young-adult novel on which it’s based. Despite that, this somewhat disjointed but refreshingly earnest movie ultimately establishes itself as a charmer.
While Stephen Chbosky -- directing from his screenplay, based on his 1999 book -- occasionally leans a little hard on the overtly sentimental, he succeeds at the most important element in any film about that bumpy path from pubescence to adulthood: He makes us feel young.
The movie relies on the same narrative device as the novel, introducing us to our protagonist, an introspective Pittsburgh freshman named Charlie (Logan Lerman of “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief”), via a series of letters written to an unknown recipient. We learn that Charlie, having recently lost his best friend to suicide, is entering high school with no acquaintances and no notable romantic history, but an enormous appetite for making mix tapes and reading every classic work of fiction that his affable English teacher (Paul Rudd) slips him for extra credit.
When Charlie meets Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson) -- seniors, stepsiblings and self-defined misfit toys -- he suddenly finds himself with two spirit guides willing to usher him into a bold new world of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” screenings, marijuana brownies and the first glimmers of unrequited love.
Those who view “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” as the bible of their “My So-Called Life” years will be pleased to know that this is a largely faithful adaptation. That means the plot veers into some heavy territory, including multiple instances of physical abuse that make this a darker addition to the teen-movie genre than the uninitiated may be expecting. One could argue that Chbosky adheres to his original work a bit too closely; there are moments in “Perks” when scenes flow rather abruptly from one to the next, as if the filmmaker is racing to squeeze the most crucial plot points into a 103-minute running time.
Still, the empathy-generating performances by the charismatic young actors -- particularly the uber-confident Miller and a simultaneously punk-rock cynical and girlishly fragile Mae Whitman -- compensate for any missteps. Both Lerman and Watson are quite likable here as well, although Watson occasionally allows her British accent to creep in, reminding us of her past life as Hermione in the “Harry Potter” movies.
The other star in this movie is the soundtrack, which in keeping with the story’s early ’90s setting spills forth a parade of melodies from the Cocteau Twins, Cracker and, yes, the Smiths. That makes “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” a film designed both for nostalgic Gen-Xers and the text-addicted kids of today. Really, it’s a movie designed for anyone who has ever ridden in a car beside their closest high school friends with their hair whipping in a liberating weekend-night wind and a heart filled with a sense of the infinite.
Contains mature thematic material, drug and alcohol use, sexual content including references and a fight, all involving teens.