The trials of the teenage years manage to cross the boundaries of time and it’s a shared experience across each generation as we put the first stamps on who we are. That first poster of a band we display proudly on our bedroom wall or a bold hair colouring is the first real announcement to the world that we’re about to arrive. ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ beautifully captures a formative time in adolescence that is more than just a “coming of age” flick but a celebration of life.
Charlie (Logan Lerman) is about the start high school with the simple wish that his first year will be a good one. He meets Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson) who welcome Charlie into their group.
The vision is clear in ‘Perks’ and it’s a rare achievement that author, Stephen Chbosky adapted his book of the same name into a screenplay and directs the film. Chbosky deserves credit for managing to retain the book rights and for convincing producers (that includes actor John Malkovitch) to let him bring his creation to life on screen. The passion is in every frame as if Chbosky is broadcasting his poignant words from the heart onto celluloid.
The story’s painful catalyst echoes throughout the film, but it begins on an optimistic note with Charlie striving for happiness and the simple notion of making a friend. It’s a wonderful starting point when most films about teenagers, such as the woeful ‘Project X’, begin with character motivations that come from the heads of their genitals. The genuine belief in friendship and the pathways to kindness is what makes Charlie’s journey an engaging awakening.
The American high school setting is vicious as expected and Chbosky is quick to point out that bullies come in the form of jocks and misguided intellectuals with Charlie frequently put down but his fellow straight-A students. Charlie starts as a loner but once in the realm of his new found friends there is the full gauntlet of issues that forces the characters into adulthood despite the spark of youth that shines out from them. Chbosky never shies away from the heavy stuff and each character has their moment to reveal their troubles as Charlie falls into the inner circle of trust. Chbosky also carefully lets us inside Charlie’s head to show us his simple desires expressed via moments of wishful thinking. It’s a joy to ride along with Charlie as he has his first encounter with drugs, a first love, the first time he breaks someone’s heart and even the first tentative steps on a dance floor. There are shades of films of a similar ilk such as ‘The Breakfast Club’, ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ and ‘Stand By Me’ but Chnosky builds on the foundations of filmmakers, John Hughes and Rob Reiner to create a film that’s close to being timeless in capturing life as a teenager.
A band t-shirt makes a statement about who we are based off our tastes and the music in ‘Perks’ is used in the same way. Common interests in music and making mix cassette tapes show the characters bonding as well as helping to shape their outlook. The soundtrack is full songs that define the 90s setting like The Smiths and Sonic Youth, but there is the discovery of the greatness of David Bowie too.
Lerman is superb and the wide-eyed naivety he brings to each moment is endearing but becomes heartbreaking when he is overwhelmed during the film’s dramatic moments and large revelations in the plot. Miller and Watson and all of the circle of friends are excellent including Mae Whitman and Erin Wilhelmi. There are lots of lovely subtle performances within Charlie’s family played by Dylan McDermott and Kate Walsh as his parents and Nina Dobrev and Zane Holtz as his siblings. Paul Rudd is wonderful as Charlie’s English teacher and confidant, and there are nice appearances from Joan Cusack and Tom Savini.
‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ is a humbling experience and despite whatever generation you hark from there is the common ground of having lived through those teenage years and this film revels in those magic moments and the people that help form who we are.
The Popcorn Junkie
‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ is released:
29 November 2012 Australia