Film Review – The Perks Of Being A Wallflower

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower

Directed by: Stephen Chbosky

Starring: Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller, Emma Watson

Three and a half stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Imagine the struggle of being a shy teenage outsider with no friends, never been kissed and having to start your first day at high school where you are the target of ridicule from the “cool” kids. Now imagine you have a mental illness on top of all that teen angst. Mental illness is not an untouched topic in feature films but it is usually limited to the struggles that adults have with it. Not since Donnie Darko has there been a potent expose on how teenagers deal with it. This refreshing twist, which doesn’t come into full play until the shattering final moments, is the driving force behind what is otherwise a painfully self-consciously hip look at high school life.

Charlie (Logan Lerman) is an awkward and quiet teenager that shows up to high school on his first day with no friends. He soon befriends kooky, free-spirited step siblings and high school seniors Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson) and is welcomed into their group of friends with their own individual flair. Throughout the school year, the trio become inseparable and they and their friends deal with a plethora of coming of age issues.

Charlie deals with his first love (he falls for Sam, who doesn’t seem to return the same feelings), his first relationship with vegan Buddhist Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman), Patrick must keep his relationship with jock Brad (Johnny Simmons) a secret and Sam has a promiscuous past and worries that she won’t be accepted into her preferred college. Meanwhile bits of Charlies past are constantly haunting him and he tries to keep up  a facade of “normal.” And all of this plays out to the soundtrack of a few mix tapes.

There is a lot to like here. The performances are spot on; Watson provides the charm in a role that doesn’t really let her stretch beyond her Harry Potter films character and Miller provides the laughs – something he was not able to do as the evil, psychopathic child in We Need To Talk About Kevin. But Lerman knocks it out of the park, balancing an appearance of awkwardness and genuine distress at his own creeping thoughts.

Audiences may get a kick out of the cassettes, mix-tapes, records and typewriters that feature heavily in this early 1990s-set story, but its over-reliance on them to connect with audiences is distracting and grows tiresome. Trying even harder to secure a hipster audience, the film (which is based on the book of the same name) has its characters work in a theatre that screens The Rocky Horror Picture Show sing-a-longs, which, for me, incited more eye rolling than giddy nostalgia.

This is a super sweet film that wears its heart on its sleeve while hinting at a much darker undertone. The issues dealt with make this more than just a John Hughes teen movie knock off. But the dramatic moments, while packing an emotional punch, feel more like punctuation points throughout the film, creating an unevenness in the storytelling. An often achingly relatable look at high school life with a few surprises up its sleeve should be see but taken with a grain of salt. Like its lead characters – it has problems.

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