As The Perks of Being a Wallflower gets going, it appears to be nothing more than a classic coming-of-age tale. Bookish loner gets picked on by cartoonish jocks, meets the “losers” (who are really the cool kids), falls in love with the impossibly hot girl and spends the rest of the movie trying to make her his.
As the movie progresses, however, the characters slowly transition from teen-movie tropes to much deeper characters. As the layers are peeled back, dark secrets are revealed, until you realize that none of them were the characters they first seemed to be.
The exquisite storytelling technique stems directly from creator Stephen Chbosky. Chbosky’s 1999 bestseller of the same name is a cult favorite of the Rocky Horror Picture Show/Morrissey-fan crowd the characters exist in. Fortunately for book purists, Chbosky was tapped to adapt and direct his own novel. What better way to make your directorial debut? There’s nothing eye-catching about the cinematography, but when you’re revealing the kind of stuff the characters are as they bare their souls, flashy camerawork might just serve as a distraction.
The cast is solid, if not outstanding. Logan Lerman, recently of the Percy Jackson series, was fresh-faced and believable as the lead wallflower, Charlie. Ezra Miller plays Patrick, the flomboyant senior that takes Charlie under his wing. It’s a stark contrast from his last major role, as the titular, evil Kevin from 2011’s We Need To Talk About Kevin. Both of those young actors seem poised for a good portion of the next decade’s film roles.
Paul Rudd delivers a solid, subdued performance as Charlie’s teacher and mentor. With all the wackiness he’s shown over the last few years, it’s nice to see him rein it in and play a fairly serious role for once.
The film’s biggest draw, however, is Emma Watson. She plays Sam, the main love interest who unwittingly keeps Charlie at bay for most of the film. After playing Hermione seven times in the Harry Potter series, she should be no stranger to the advances of obsessed bookworms; perhaps she drew on some of that experience for the role. Radiant yet tortured, it’s not hard to imagine a generation of teenage Smiths fans (or whoever the modern equivalent of the Smiths are – probably still the Smiths, right?) developing major crushes on the idea of a girl like her in their real life.
∎ Arrested Development’s Mae Whitman (her?) being sensual.
∎ High schoolers without smartphones (it takes them the entire movie to figure out the name of the song “Heroes” by David Bowie).
∎ Emily Callahan’s performance as the retainer-clad “Mean Freshman Girl.”
I’m not going to call it a must-see, but it’s a very realistic, sometimes funny, other times tear-jerking depiction of high school delivered on a level that anyone who lived it should appreciate. Definitely worth a watch.