The Perks of Being a Wallflower (M) – 4 stars
Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Mae Whitman
DIRECTOR STEPHEN CHOBSKY
REVIEW LUCY GIBSON
You’ll like this if you liked the movies of John Hughes in particular Breakfast Club, Juno, Little Miss Sunshine
His first screenplay remains unproduced but Stephen Chbosky’s literary debut, the young adult novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower, has become cult reading for teenagers.
Indeed Chbosky’s tale of a boy going through his first year of high school has made such a mark that it’s required reading at some schools — and banned in others.
I’m ashamed to say I had never heard of the book but, after watching this powerful and affecting film which charts the all-too- familiar highs and lows of adolescence, I wanted to rush out and buy a copy as soon as the credits rolled.
Some critics may argue that a novelist is too close to his own book to objectively turn it into a screenplay, let alone direct it. On the contrary, The Perks of Being a Wallflower seems to hit the mark because Chbosky remains loyal to his readers while taking those unfamiliar with his text on a beautiful journey featuring moments of joy and utter despair.
Pivotal to this is the stellar cast of young actors he has assembled, starting with Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson and the Olympians) who is outstanding as the film’s protagonist Charlie, a smart but socially awkward “wallflower” content with watching from the sidelines as his peers throw themselves into school life.
“They say if you make one friend on your first day you’re doing OK,” Charlie’s (English teacher Mr Anderson (Paul Rudd (in a nicely understated role) tells him. “If my English teacher is the only friend I make today that would be sort of depressing,” says Charlie, who narrates the film through letters to an unidentified friend.
Then there’s the lovely Emma Watson, breaking free from the chains of Hogwarts with a mature performance as the radiant and free-spirited Sam who, with her fearless gay stepbrother Patrick (Ezra Miller providing much of the comic relief here), takes Charlie under her wing.
The pair of seniors welcome Charlie into their circle — “welcome to the island of misfit toys,” Sam says — and it’s among this eclectic group of teenagers the introverted youngster learns the importance of making a good mixed tape (the film is set in the 1990s) and the meaning of friendship, sexuality and first love.
“Why do I and everyone I love pick people who treat us like we are nothing,” asks a despondent Sam one day — to which Charlie utters the painfully sweet words “We accept the love we think we deserve”.
At the same time, Charlie’s friendship with Mr Anderson blossoms with his mentor introducing him to works of literature and sparking his dreams of becoming a writer.
Yet while he thrives in this grown-up world of intelligent conversation, parties and late- night screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show as his new pals prepare to head off to college, painful events in his past — his friend’s recent suicide and the accidental death of his beloved aunt — rear their ugly head and his world unravels.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is loosely based on Chbosky’s own teenage experiences.
“I had reached a point in my life where I was ready to write about why good people have to go through such bad things and how a family of friends can get you through,” he writes in the film’s production notes.
“I really needed answers for myself and it was like Charlie tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘I’m ready to tell my story’.”
But the fact that this could be anyone’s story is what makes The Perks of Being a Wallflower so profoundly moving.
Setting the film in the 1990s means that, even if your teenage years have been resigned to a box in the attic, it’s easy to look back on your own experiences and relate to Charlie, Sam, Patrick and friends as they deal with the complexities of growing up.
Chbosky, as the great John Hughes did before him, conveys these complexities with humour and grace, treating with sincerity the very real issues teenagers face.
It features an empowering soundtrack and stand-out performances from its three leads — in particular Miller, who first came to our attention last year playing a disturbed, high-school-massacring teen in We Need to Talk About Kevin and is outstanding here as a young man struggling to come to terms with his forbidden relationship with a college jock.
This is a beautifully shot, touching and often funny portrait of the joy and anguish involved in becoming an adult and the hope that lies under the surface of it all.
“I know these will all be stories one day but right now we are alive,” Charlie declares. “And in this moment, I swear we are infinite.”
The Perks of Being a Wallflower opens today.