“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is an indie coming of age drama starring Logan Lerman as an insecure teen entering his first year of high school, and Emma Watson and Ezra Miller as the step-siblings with their own issues that he befriends. Together they struggle their way through a difficult social year, and learn to confront their personal demons.
It’s a solid teen drama, with some genuine emotional weight to it. It’s pervasively “indie”, but manages to set itself apart via a strong central character and solid performances across the board.
Charlie (Logan Lerman) is entering his first year in high school. Unfortunately, a personal tragedy set him back in Jr High and as a result, he doesn’t have any friends at this point. The tragedy has also left him with some mental health issues he has to deal with as well. It’s not all exactly a recipe for popularity, and for a brief time, the only one at his new school he connects with is his sympathetic English teacher (Paul Rudd).
Enter Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller), two step-sibling seniors with issues of their own. Patrick is gay, and his boyfriend Brad (Johnny Simmons) is deeply in the closet and embroiled with self loathing issues. Sam seems to be the girl who has everything together, but the choices she makes in her romantic life hint otherwise. Together, the three of them form a tight-knit bond, helping each other endure the cruelty of the social shark tank that is high school and working to get a grip on their own respective problems.
The biggest challenge to enjoying “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is that this sort of film has become a cliché of sorts. The high school misfits who band together and suffer the slings and arrows while trading mixtapes of underground music and espousing plaintive wishes that the world was a better place. But writer/director Stephen Chbosky (adapting his own novel here in his first major directorial effort) has put some honest feelings forth here in what is obviously a very personal film for him. He’s created some very damaged characters that have a degree of authenticity to them… the film really does a good job of establishing and conveying the various “hurts” they have to get past. Which helps offsets obvious wish fulfilment moments like the three of them staring in a live action Rocky Horror Picture show production.
Mainly however, the film helps you connect with the protagonist, played by Logan Lerman in a solid, low-key, likeable fashion. They do a great job of hinting at his instabilities and insecurities without heavy handedly shoving them under the audience’s noses. You wind up rooting for him to overcome his social ineptitudes and cheering for his small victories along the way. Chbosky has also created a level of interest by slowing revealing the trauma in Charlie’s past. That element adds a dramatic context that helps elevate the film beyond its “high school of misfit toys” premise.
It’s an enjoyable effort. In spite of a number of elements and concepts that feel a touch overused in the indie world, “Perks” stands out as a worthy dramatic watch.