Movie Review: "The Perks of Being a Wallflower"
Length: 103 minutes
Release Date: September 26, 2012
Directed by: Stephen Chbosky
Stars: 4 out of 5
When a book makes the transition to the big screen, it is not uncommon for an author to take a turn as a screenwriter. It is a little more unusual for an author to step behind the camera. At first, Mr. Mudd Productions asked author Stephen Chbosky to adapt his bestselling 1999 novel into a film. Soon, Chbosky's role expanded and evolved. Now that the finished product has hit theaters, Stephen Chbosky's name appears all over the film. He is the director, the screenwriter and the author of the original work.
With such total control over "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," Chbosky is taking a big gamble. Authors and directors both work in the creative field, but the two mediums are very different. For instance, there is no guarantee that Chuck Palahniuk could have successfully directed "Fight Club" (1999). Instead, both Palahniuk and David Fincher brought their own unique strengths to the same story. By taking on his own work, Chbosky ran the risk of playing it too safe or letting his ego get in the way. However, the finished product shows that Chbosky is up to the challenge of filling multiple creative roles.
"The Perks of Being a Wallflower" is a coming-of-age story that mixes honesty, poignancy and wittiness. The film is set in 1991, but the story reflects the timelessness of American adolescence. Charlie (Logan Lerman) is intelligent and introverted. Like many smart teenagers, these qualities are not much help when it comes to fitting in with his peers. Charlie has a lot on his plate. One of his most pressing concerns involves finding new companions after his friend, Susan (Julia Garner), moves up on the social ladder. Charlie is still clinging to the lowest rung of the ladder, and the dark secrets that occupied his summer only make him feel like more of an outsider.
When Charlie first meets Patrick (Ezra Miller), the two boys could not seem more opposite. Unlike introverted Charlie, Patrick embraces his weird side. The confident and eccentric senior is exactly the type of person Charlie wishes he could be. Almost miraculously, Patrick sees a kindred spirit in Charlie and takes the younger boy under his wing. Charlie also meets Sam (Emma Watson), Patrick's free-spirited stepsister. It does not take long for Charlie to become the third member of an exclusive club. Patrick and Sam open up his world, introducing him to fun and danger at the same time. No longer just watching, Charlie is now participating in high school life. He experiments with drugs and navigates the thrilling awkwardness of first love. The whole time, however, Charlie's demons lurk in the background. When the demons come out, they could endanger everything Charlie now loves, or they could help him discover his true identity.
The three young stars of the film work well together, providing a believable chemistry that holds their onscreen friendship together through the weaker moments. Many critics and fans have been waiting excitedly to see Watson's performance. It is her first major role since the "Harry Potter" series came to an end. Watson proves that she has acting chops that extend beyond Hermione Granger. She even shows off a dangerous side that would scandalize Hogwarts. Meanwhile, Ezra Miller brings just the right level of charisma and vulnerability to Patrick. Audiences are likely to fall under Miller's spell, just as Charlie falls under Patrick's.
Much like the teenage years, "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" is flawed at times. The drama lacks the assuredness and self-awareness of a more mature film. Occasionally, Chbosky's witty dialogue feels affected instead of endearing. Yet, the screenplay's overall attitude accurately reflects the mindset of many smart, misfit teenagers. Though it runs the risk of being melodramatic and pretentious, the movie is deeply heartfelt. The characters leave the impression that they truly mean what they say, even if they try to hide behind a veil of irony.
This kind of vulnerability is what made Stephen Chbosky's book the voice of a generation. Over a decade later, Chbosky has returned to the same story. His lack of experience as a director may actually help, letting him take on an uncertainty he probably does not feel as a 40-something. The end result could have been a disaster, but Chbosky once again tapped into the heart of the adolescent experience. This is a movie where humor can be a weapon against secret fears and philosophical discussions can last all night. Teen audiences should be able to easily relate to the film. Meanwhile, adult audiences can take an awkward yet poignant trip down memory lane.