Director: Stephen Chbosky
Writer: Stephen Chbosky (screenplay & novel)
Stars: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Paul Rudd
Release date: September 21st, 2012
Distributor: Summit Entertainment
Running time: 113 minutes
Best part: The indie-rock soundtrack.
Worst part: Underused supporting cast.
Whether it be the popular kid, the musical kid, the sporty kid or one of the unappreciated, anyone will admit that any amount of time spent at high school was just too much. Adolescence, bullying, illness and social order may at some point affect the average teenager, which The Perks of Being a Wallflower amiably discusses with hints of wit and optimism. The film depicts the mind of a struggling student, looking for a way into an accepted approach to living life. Wallflower is a middle finger to the cynical outlook of the world, proving that anyone’s dreams can and should always be encouraged.
Charlie (Logan Lerman) is a sweet and passionate young man about to attend his first day of high school. Instantly becoming an outsider, Charlie finds solace through his ambition of becoming a writer. Trying to expel the demons of his solemn past, his love of reading and new-found connection with English teacher Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd) become profound stepping stones to a fulfilling life. He also finds a meaningful connection with a unique group of older students, led by Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller). Charlie is soon invited on their surreal journey heading swiftly towards the end of the school year. Their imaginative interests and opinionated attitudes may help Charlie to find a place where he truly belongs and control his wavering mental state.
Wallflower is a truly unique and profound example of obtaining the greatest effect through low budget filmmaking (by Hollywood standards of course). The characters and story become instantly identifiable, not just through the power of adolescence but through existential angst. Charlie is an avatar for the modern viewer. A 90’s kid adapting to his own slice of Eden, the determined yet repressed Charlie allows the viewer to peel back multiple layers of his fragmented psyche. With each first experience (sex, drugs etc.), Charlie expands his own universe and creates a rebellious, empathetic and aspiring protagonist. The narration and flashbacks create an immersive and emotionally powerful insight into a life slowly veering away from normality. This easily identifiable character is an important example of how a single person can powerfully effect the lives of everyone around them. The film’s comedic yet extensive outlook on intertwining relationships and philosophical ideals is on par with cult classics such as Dazed and Confused and 10 Things I Hate About You. Director and screenwriter Stephen Chbosky is clearly a major part of his own work. Chbosky, also the author of the original material, has created a sensitive coming-of-age tale of how certain passions, ideals or significant others can lead to multiple conflicts and conclusions.
The film provides many nods to similar works, portraying a love for subversive entertainment and nostalgia simultaneously (in particular The Rocky Horror Picture Show). Influenced by the fun yet profound high school-based comedies of John Hughes (The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), Wallflower‘s subtle character touches create a much greater impact than the exaggerated iconic elements of Hughes’ material. The multi-layered stance against the high school system is projected in Charlie’s kaleidoscopic journey of friendship, betrayal and conformation. The ambitious and artistic older students convince Charlie that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The ranging personalities and conflicting emotions of this quirky group provide an in-depth study of the music, films, social classes and artistic endeavours of the era. ”Everything sounds better on vinyl” says Watson’s character, as the film provides a subtle look at what it takes to find a collection of identifiable people perfect for Charlie’s innate desires. The homophobic and abrasive high school system is a symbol of oppression in a changing decade. Chbosky creates a tonal balance however by portraying the 90’s as a cultural landscape eventually willing to accompany everyone’s hidden dreams, desires and opinions. Despite it’s affecting story, the film fails to develop Charlie’s important emotional problems such as bullying, family, suicide, troubled relationships and drug addiction, leaving many vital conflicts with a lack of significant explanation.
“You can’t just sit there and put everybody’s lives ahead of yours and think that counts as love.” (Sam (Emma Watson), The Perks of Being a Wallflower).
The independent rock score stands out as a vital symbol of this group’s inner workings. Songs from David Bowie, Neil Finn and Sonic Youth provide a surprisingly memorable, catchy and rousing way of propelling this uplifting story of youth fighting back. The film benefits from its stellar cast. The young lead actors have never been better, creating likeable characters through instant chemistry. Lerman, unconvincing in mainstream films such as Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief and The Three Musketeers, is enthralling in his subdued performance as Charlie. His impressive emotional range here lifts Chbosky’s troubled character off the page, displaying a charming yet destructive teenager wanting desperately to fit in. Emma Watson (the Harry Potter series) delivers an energetic turn as the seductive yet positive student finding new ways to achieve independence, placing her preferences and conflicting emotions in full view. While Ezra Miller (We Need to Talk About Kevin) is both charismatic and darkly comic as the class clown and sympathetic leader. The supporting cast however is underused is ostensibly important roles. Rudd is his usual charming self in his small screen time as Charlie’s teacher. While TV actors Dylan McDermott and Kate Walsh are wasted as Charlie’s parents.
Chbosky, taking on writing and directing duties with little experience, seems to know what he is doing. Despite the minor book-to-film translation flaws, his adaptation is a fun and visceral homage to John Hughes and adolescence itself.