The Perks of Being a Wallflower (12A)

Directed by Stephen Chbosky
Written by Stephen Chbosky (novel & screenplay)
On general release from 3rd October 2012

Reviewed by Kathryn Lamble

Something strange happens throughout the course of Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, his adaptation of his best-selling novel. There is a darkness brewing beneath the surface, a continual low pulse that threatens to erupt at any moment. Everything seems fine, but underneath there are untold depths, daring you to look a little further, to try and find what’s been staring you in the face all along. This is the journey that we, as viewers, go on during the film as momentary interlopers into the formative experiences of Charlie, the wallflower of the title.

The first two-thirds of the film pass as a well- made, intelligent but not entirely original coming-of-age comedy drama. The usual tropes of the American high school settings crop up; the stoner, the pig-headed jock, the loner, the inspiring teacher and the group of misfits who show said loner the other side of high-school life. There’s drinking, drugging, falling in love and getting your feelings trampled all over.

The dialogue is sharp and believable, as are the cast of young stars, including a much-hyped, non-Hogwarts role for Emma Watson, and an entirely sympathetic and gentle Logan Lerman. Lerman brings our wallflower Charlie to life with a subtlety and maturity that belie his 20 years. Both help form a convincing and authentic ensemble.

However, the show belongs to Ezra Miller as the vital, charming and beautiful Patrick. Miller plays it so perfectly with a balance of curt knowingness and sharp tongued-ness. Yet he is hopelessly and optimistically still a teenager, embracing life so fully and at times utterly heartbreakingly. Such is his presence that it is often hard to watch anyone else when he is on screen.

It is into the final third of the film that things become much less conventional, and Charlie’s world begins to turn in on itself. Throughout the film we are afforded tiny snippets of Charlie’s childhood which increase and intensify toward the final third. They erupt through the surface and we are left to face the full severity of Charlie’s childhood trauma.

Chbosky delivers a twist so thunderous and heartbreaking it is hard not to be moved. He addresses issues of immense seriousness unflinchingly, yet respectfully, and dares to dig a lot deeper than most conventional teen movies. It seems almost as if the familiarity of the first two-thirds of the film were intended to lull you into thinking you were watching an impressive but familiar film. The final crescendo makes any charge of generic elements aimed at it entirely forgivable.

The razor sharp writing establishes Chbosky as a distinctive cinematic voice, able to make the transition from page to screen seem almost effortless. His young cast have the perfect springboard to showcase their talents, particularly Miller, surely the breakout star of the event. The Perks of Being a Wallflower stands to become one of the most memorable and affecting films of a generation; I don’t doubt that it will stay with you as it has stayed with me.

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