The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the closest thing we’ve seen to a John Hughes movie since Cameron Crowe channeled him to make Almost Famous. That film felt more epic than the traditional Hughes film, in part due to Crowe’s drawing from his experiences with Rolling Stone. Author/Director Stephen Chobsky also draws from experience to create Perks, however his film has the more intimate feel of a Hughes movie (The Breakfast Club), and that makes it great.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is set in or around Pittsburgh, PA in the early 1990s. Charlie (Logan Lerman) is the aforementioned wallflower; a high school freshman with light heart, but a heavy soul since his best friend recently committed suicide. He finds fitting in and making friends a challenge and instead chooses to lose himself in the novels of equally awkward, soul-searching literary protagonists supplied by his English teacher, Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd). Charlie’s awakening comes as a result of being accepted by a group of like-minded upper-classmen. It is here that Charlie’s coming of age journey into adolescence finds its stride.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower seems to unfold effortlessly. We learn more about Charlie as he learns more about himself. This surrealist approach to self-discovery allows the viewer to be both surprised by and understanding of Charlie’s decisions and actions. His closest friends are Sam (Emma Watson) and Sam’s step-brother, Patrick (Ezra Miller), and they shape the heart of this film. Sam’s confidence, charm, and beauty complement her romantic and impulsive attitude towards life, which spellbinds and captivates the sullen but passionate Charlie. Ezra Miller as Patrick deserves special notice as he steals every scene he’s in. This character is miles from his ultra-disturbing performance as Kevin in We Need to Talk About Kevin, but is even more impressive. Patrick’s story reveals him to be somewhat of a foil to Charlie as both have similar struggles of adolescence and deal with them very differently. The supporting characters all have their moments as well, allowing secondary characters to be purposeful and not artificial. The film’s best line is given to Charlie’s dad, played Dylan McDermott, in an amusing exchange about borrowing money for a date.
The success of Perks also lies in Chobsky’s handling of his own source material’s tone. He never lets us, or Charlie, get too comfortable, hinting that something more sinister is lying beneath the surface, yet he never allows the film’s youthful spirit to suffer. This balance illustrates the volatility of teenage years with that same touch John Hughes had. The film also allows music to play a major part in the characters’ lives, which was a classic Hughes trademark.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is very successful at what it sets out to be. Many recent films of this genre either feel too self-important and preachy or they go the other way and seem shallow. This film strikes out a balance and while not treading new ground, deservedly treads proudly. B+