The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
Directed by: Stephen Chbosky
Written by: Stephen Chbosky
Cinematography by: Andrew Dunn
Starring: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Mae Whitman, Melanie Lynskey, Paul Rudd
Coming of age films are tough to tackle. For one, they have the difficult task of appealing to both the age group they portray, and the adults that once used to be that age. We all know John Hughes was a master of the genre, with Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985), and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), but there’s also Stand By Me (1986), Dead Poets Society (1989), A Bronx Tale (1993), The Sandlot (1993), and City of God (2002), to name a few more that truly created a lasting impact for me.
And now there’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, a moving and haunting piece of film, based on the novel by Stephen Chbosky, who also happens to be the writer and director. It follows the story of Charlie (Logan Lerman), dreading the arrival of high school, having no friends, and no sense of attachment to much in his life. He’s a troubled teen who keeps to himself, until he meets Patrick (Ezra Miller) and his step-sister Sam (Emma Watson). Charlie, now accepted into a circle of friends, starts to alter his lifestyle with parties, school dances, mixed in with music, drugs/alcohol, and of course, young love. The ups and downs of these new found relationships and experiences provides the crux of the story.
The film flew under my radar, just as the book once did. I was a senior in high school when my English teacher mentioned the book to the class, and only a handful of kids had read it. His interest in it, and his emotionally charged words about it, led me to head down to Borders and pick it up, and I managed to read it in one sitting. The book is written as a series of letters by Charlie to an unnamed Friend. It’s a striking form of storytelling, because it makes the mind race, eager to want to learn more of Charlie’s own perspective in these letters and get an even bigger picture. Going into the film, that was my biggest concern. How would the film seemingly adapt all those little nuances, details, and most of all, that unique method of storytelling in a medium that now adds a visual element far removed from merely reading letters. My concerns however, were completely put to ease with this film. It’s not a groundbreaking story, and honestly, most coming of age films aren’t. It’s all about the characters, and the emotions, that drive why these films work for an audience. This film gets almost everything right. Now I wasn’t the most popular kid in high school, and I was hardly what you’d call a jock. I was probably a nerd with far too much confidence than that stereotype usually allows for. Did I relate with exactly everything Charlie, Patrick, and/or Sam go through? No. But those themes are so universal that I’d be surprised, if all of you, at least at some level, don’t connect with some of their situations, even if they’re not the exact same circumstances.
As mentioned, this film hinges on performances, and the three leads deliver in spades. Logan’s Charlie is a character far removed from the likes of a Percy Jackson, and allows for the actor to shine in a way that will truly open doors for him. He plays Charlie perfectly, almost like a teenage Bruce Banner, struggling with the darkness that surrounds him, while trying to hold onto the only source of light he has. He plays troubled, but in a way that isn’t in your face. It’s quiet, and that’s perhaps what makes it so disturbing–that this sweet kid is experiencing all this seemingly alone, and throughout the course of the film, you’re left thinking what he’s thinking, and wondering what his next move will be. At his lowest, you’re right there with him, and at his highest, you’d do anything to not only stay there with him, but keep him there. The same can be said about Emma Watson and Ezra Miller, who break away seriously from their previous characters of the overachiever Hermoine and the teenage psychopath Kevin, respectively. Watson plays Sam as damaged, but pure at heart; as vulnerable, yet severely powerful; and I dare anyone not to fall for her the way that Sam does. She’s very much the driving force, and the precious constant in Charlie’s life, and that particular relationship’s ups and downs make for the film’s most endearing, heartwarming, and heartbreaking moments. Likewise, Miller takes Patrick and infuses him with an energy that makes it hard not to gravitate towards him. The supporting characters, from Paul Rudd, Mae Whitman, and Melanie Lynskey all do a great job in rounding out this universe and creating a world I never wanted to leave.
It’s a rare treat to see a film adaptation being done so by the author of the novel in question. So when it’s not just the screenplay credited to Chbosky, but the direction itself, it’s doubly exciting, for perhaps no one understands these characters and can direct them better than the man who created them. True to its title, Chbosky takes a wallflower approach towards the film, allowing entire scenes to just play out, sometimes from a distance, with very minimal cuts, save for a close up here and there. Everything remains simplistic, even when the surroundings suggest anything but. There are a few standout scenes that I see myself not only revisiting, but being a complete wreck every time that I do, and that’s a true testament to the young actors and a writer/director, who completely understand the material, both written and performed. This is a film that doesn’t try to be that quintessential coming of age film; it doesn’t try to ape the classics or anything that came before it; it is merely an honest look at one life, and the perks of being around some special people at what seems like a truly bizarre point in time for a lot of us.