Many teen coming-of-age stories come are released every year – it takes a rare and special to make a lasting impression. Adapted by the novel of the same name, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is certainly something special and it has left its mark on me. Review after the jump.
We first meet Charlie (Logan Lerman) in on his first day of high school. Charlie is considerably anxious about the occasion – he isn’t exactly the popular type and he’s had a tough time in recent years. The only connection he makes on his first day is with his English teacher, Mr Anderson (Paul Rudd), who notes his passion for literature and writing, and shares his books with noticeably awkward student.
After some time Charlie finally makes friends with two seniors, Sam (Emma Watson) and her stepbrother Patrick (Ezra Miller). The two misfits see something in Charlie that he is yet to see himself – they see someone who they can trust and someone worthy of love and friendship. He is introduced into their friends and their world, and for the first time feels like he belongs somewhere. Freshman year is always hard, and for someone with Charlie’s struggles, it was going to be a tumultuous time. Sometimes to make it through okay all you need is a friend you can count on, and there is hope that these new friends will see Charlie through the potentially tough times that school and personal demons will present.
There is something about The Perks of Being a Wallflower which spoke to me on a really personal level. Perhaps it was because the film is set in the late 90s, when I was the same age as Charlie. I recognise the struggles that teens in the film go through, and relate to the need to have someone who is really there for you. For teens, these were times of mix-tapes and experimenting, of school dances and personal challenges – this film captures this time and experience perfectly.
Far from being a cookie-cutter, sweet coming-of-age film, this film deals with some seriously dark issues in a respective and open manner; abuse, mental illness, bullying, prejudice, promiscuity and drug use appear in the film and are experienced by the characters in some way. There are also tender and awkward moments such as first kisses, unrequited love and rejection. The screenplay written by writer-director Stephen Chbosky is packed full with painfully honest exchanges between characters, and breathtakingly raw inner monologue (in the form of letters to an unknown “friend”) from our wallflower, Charlie.
Performances from the fantastic ensemble cast are excellent, with Lerman and Miller standing out. Lerman gets the balance of awkwardness, darkness and hope just right, and he will have you fully invested in Charlie from the start. Miller is simply wonderful as the exuberant Patrick, who channels much of his energy into deflecting the taunts and bullying he regularly experiences with extreme cheerfulness and witty retorts. Watson is also well cast as Sam, the seemingly flawless girl who has a colourful past to overcome.
Finally what makes this film for me is the absolute spot-on music choices and the importance that the characters place in music to express their feelings and mark the important moments in their lives. The exchanging of mix-tapes were the love letters of a generation – there is so much meaning and hope encapsulated in each and every one of them. From ‘Heroes’ by David Bowie, to ‘Pearly-dewdrops’ by Cocteau twins, the songs accompany the scenes perfectly, adding angst, joy, anger and any other emotion called for. The songs alone will ensure the film remains in my head for some time to come.
An enduring and beautiful coming-of-age story, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of the finest films on the big-screen in 2012.
By Sam McCosh
Director: Stephen Chbosky
Writer(s): Stephen Chbosky (novel & screenplay)
Starring: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller
Runtime: 103 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: November 29 2012; USA: October 12 2012; New Zealand: April 4 2013