Author Stephen Chbosky published his first novel, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” back in 1999 and, since that time, wrote the screenplay for the 2005 film adaption of Rent as well as co-created the fan-favorite series, Jericho. Now Chbosky is back with a Perks of Being a Wallflower film but, after adapting his breakout book for the big screen, this time he’s also sitting in the director’s chair.
Wallflower is Chbosky’s second film – after his 1995 indie comedy effort, The Four Corners of Nowhere. Seventeen years later, the director is aided in his efforts by a talented batch of young actors that should be familiar to most entertainment fans: Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson & the Olympians), Emma Watson (Harry Potter), Mae Whitman (Arrested Development), Nina Dobrev (Vampire Diaries), and Ezra Miller (We Need to Talk about Kevin). Do the combined efforts of the cast and author/screenwriter/director result in an engaging sophomore film – and a worthwhile adaptation of the captivating Perks of Being a Wallflower source material?
Fortunately, Chbosky delivers. The Perks of Being a Wallflower successfully balances touching drama, charming performances, and a challenging storyline with a proficiency that will likely surprise viewers who are less familiar with director. While the novel isn’t required reading for enjoying film version, anyone who has read the book knows that Chbosky had his work cut out for him – and Perks of Being a Wallflower will, no doubt, have many moviegoers eagerly anticipating the director’s next project.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower marketing positions the film as a typical (albeit eccentric) indie dramedy but the actual plot points of the narrative are significantly heavier than most “coming of age” tales. Out the gate, audiences are introduced to Charlie (Logan Lerman), who chronicles his life experiences by writing letters to an unnamed “reader.” The story picks up right before Charlie’s first day in High School where, following the loss of his best friend and a tumultuous eighth grade year punctuated by unexplained blackouts, the freshman attempts to make new acquaintances in order to survive the next four years. After a series of rejections, and a little perseverance, Charlie is discovered by the “island of misfit toys,” a group of eccentric seniors led by Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson), who help the their young friend learn to feel “infinite.”
Similar films tackle uncomfortable plot threads but The Perks of Being a Wallflower successfully juggles a number of taboo topics – relying heavily on subtlety in its adherence to PG-13 rating restrictions. This isn’t to say that the movie is dark and depressing because it’s actually a very uplifting and fun theater experience; however, filmgoers who aren’t prepared for a challenging time at the movies might be a little blindsided by certain elements of the plot. Similarly, a few narrative points aren’t handled as proficiently as others but Chbosky strikes a smart balance – offering some of the most likable, and downright “honest,” characters that audiences will see in 2012. Chbosky establishes a smart juxtaposition early on, depicting his nameless high school bullies as standard teenage tropes (vicious jocks, etc) – allowing his core characters plenty of standout moments that are unmatched in truthfulness and originality.
Lerman leads the production as Charlie – reminding audiences that, despite mixed reactions to his headlining work in Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief as well as Gamer, the young actor is still capable of subtle dramatic work. Even though Charlie is an exceptionally guarded and introverted character, Lerman’s thoughtful depiction helps ground the film – locking viewers tight behind the character’s reluctance while also allowing for glimmers of his underlying eagerness (not to mention larger troubles).
Ezra Miller’s Patrick serves as a smart counterbalance for Charlie and, for many audience members, will easily be the standout performance of the film. Miller brings an infectious energy to Patrick and it’s easy to see why so many of the movie’s characters look to him as the patriarch of their group. That said, along with all of his over-the-top moments of levity, Patrick also has one of the most insightful and demanding story arcs. Thankfully, Miller is up to the task – delivering several commanding Perks of Being a Wallflower scenes.
Many moviegoers will check out Perks of Being a Wallflower to see how Harry Potter-alum Emma Watson is adjusting to a post-Hogwarts career. Watson was seen briefly in My Week with Marilyn but Chbosky’s film puts the household name front and center again – and she doesn’t miss a beat. Successfully hiding her British accent, Watson handles a number of difficult scenes (including a Rocky Horror Picture Show burlesque performance) and manages to present Sam without causing flashbacks to her days as Hermione Granger.
Certain elements of The Perks of Being a Wallflower plot aren’t handled as adeptly as others but the film is full of exceptional performances and enchanting character moments. The movie is unrelenting in its exploration of troubled teenagers as well as counter-cultural angst and it might be too much for some moviegoers to handle. However, viewers who invest in Chbosky’s film will be rewarded with a “coming of age” story that, because of its commitment to the ugly side of truth, is rife with honesty and captivating drama.
If you’re still on the fence about The Perks of Being a Wallflower, check out the trailer below:
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The Perks of Being a Wallflower is Rated PG-13 on appeal for mature thematic material, drug and alcohol use, sexual content including references, and a fight – all involving teens. Now playing in limited theaters. Opening for wide release on October 5th.