Freshman year can be tough for anyone but it is especially so for Charlie (Logan Lerman). An extreme introvert whose only real friend committed suicide over the summer, Charlie has a ton of problems fitting in at school until he meets Sam (Emma Watson) and her step-brother Patrick (Ezra Miller), a pair of seniors who take him under their respective wings. Through his new friends and the special interest of his English teacher (Paul Rudd), Charlie begins to discover himself as well as the art of fine culture. But as his feelings for Sam develop, Charlie runs into a series of walls within his own mind that force him to confront a painful event from his past that he’s locked away. Based on the novel of the same name that has attained a cult following over the last decade, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a true coming of age story that hits all the highs and lows of what high school is all about. First love, heartbreak, rejection, the monotony of schoolwork, the discover of music and film, friends, and dealing with difficult things at a time when you’re really not emotionally mature enough to do so are all themes that the movie delves into and virtually everyone can understand them on some level. This easily appealing nature of the film itself and, in particular, the protagonist is what makes Perks such a success. Charlie doesn’t really fit into any of the cookie cutter movie tropes that we tend to apply to characters in high school-related movies and because of that, you can see yourself in him no matter where you fell on the social spectrum. Even jocks, a label that certainly does not apply to Charlie, can probably find some common ground with Charlie and as such, appreciate his story. The surrounding characters, too, are deep and multi-faceted and the way in which they relate to one another is quite genuine. There’s a reason why the novelized version of Perks has gained such a huge following over the years and that appeal comes leaping through in the film adaptation.
The performances within Perks are superb. Lerman has garnered most of the attention and deservedly so as his is the most important key to the film’s success. I doubted Lerman’s abilities going in due to his lackluster portrayals in The Three Musketeers and Percy Jackson (blerg) but Perks puts his many qualities on full display and he delivers a poignant, direct, and authentic piece of acting that should provide him with a clear career path outside of bad franchises. It is Watson, however, who continually drew my attention. This is a role that requires both confidence and subtle frailty, a balance that Watson strikes perfectly while bringing immense charm to the character. This is excellent work that further proves Watson’s intelligence when it comes to selecting her roles post-Harry Potter.
Perks is not always a particularly easy or comfortable viewing. By its very nature, the film covers some very difficult and sometimes depressing themes and its climax is quite sobering. High school was a tough time for many people and while Perks doesn’t revel in that (and by the way, congratulations to writer/director Stephen Chbosky on that front), it certainly doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff. As such, this is not a film for everyone and if I’m being honest, it’s not one that I want to watch a dozen times over. But if you can handle the difficult conversations that Perks looks to bring about, it is well worth your time.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower Director: Stephen Chbosky Cast: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Paul Rudd Rated: PG-13 (language, drug use, some sexuality, and general mature themes) Recommended For: Ages 13 and up