With topics ranging from self-mutilation to rape, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is not the easiest film to watch. It is, however, a film worth seeing.
Based on the book of the same title, the film puts a face to Charlie (Logan Lerman), a perceptive high school misfit trying to make it through freshman year. The introverted Charlie is a wallflower, someone who observes the world around him but stays in the corner and keeps his thoughts to himself.
The film begins with Charlie counting down the days until he graduates from high school. Unfortunately for him, he has a long way to go until he gets there — 1,385, to be exact. As Charlie makes it through his first day, it is apparent that he is completely alone. His old friends want nothing to do with him. His sister, a popular high school senior, ignores him. His older brother’s football friends could care less.
With no one to talk to, Charlie begins to write letters to an anonymous friend, someone he has never met himself but believes will understand his situation. Still, despite his wallflower status, some people begin to notice him, namely Patrick (Ezra Miller), an extroverted and openly gay senior, and his cool, yet damaged, stepsister Sam.
Since The Perks of Being a Wallflower’s book release in 1999, readers have identified with Charlie’s experiences, struggles and point of view. With its popularity, some fans were apprehensive about how the book would be interpreted on screen. They feared that the innocence and vulnerability of Charlie’s character, which is expressed through his somewhat whimsical perspectives in the books, would be lost in translation onscreen.
But Stephen Chbosky, who wrote the book and directed the movie, succeeds in establishing Charlie onscreen by creating a vulnerable point of view for the film. Through a loose, somewhat surreal narrative, Chbosky makes the audience feel a little bit detached from the scenes, just as Charlie’s character felt in the original material.
The actors also played a role in elevating the film. Though many of Charlie’s lines in the film could have felt preachy or fake onscreen, Lerman manages to stay true to the heart of Charlie’s character. In an iconic scene from the book in which Charlie is riding through a tunnel, Lerman fully inhabits his character as he locks his eyes on the camera, raises his arms up to the sky and proclaims, “We are infinite.”
The most compelling performance in the film, however, comes from Miller. Miller, who recently came out as gay himself, brings an extra depth and rawness to Patrick’s character. Miller brings his own vulnerability and edge to his performance of Patrick: After Patrick breaks up with his boyfriend, the audience clearly feels the character’s sense of loss and confusion.
Emma Watson, who is arguably the biggest star in the film, plays Sam. Surprisingly, however, Watson forms the weakest link in the main trio. Though she looks the part, she is unable to adopt a convincing American accent. When Watson speaks, she sounds more like a transfer student from England than someone born and bred in Pittsburgh. With so much hype surrounding the Harry Potter star’s new roles, her performance in Perks is a bit of a letdown.
The film’s soundtrack, however, perfectly matches Chbosky’s vision. Songs from The Smiths and David Bowie help to give the story a more contemplative, dreamlike feel, greatly aiding the narrative. The continuous music throughout Perks also makes the film’s quieter moments much more noticeable, which adds an extra sense of poignancy to those scenes.
But there are some points in the film where it feels like Chbosky is trying a little too hard to create emotional moments. He heavily favors symbolic shots and close-ups. Though those shots are occasionally able to give those scenes a sense of immediacy, they sometimes made the scenes feel a little overworked.
Still, when Perks relies on music and narrative instead of special camera tricks to tell the story, the film succeeds. And by the time the credits roll, viewers have become wallflowers in Charlie’s world, experiencing his heartaches, observations and triumphs on the screen.