The Perks Of Being A Wallflower takes itself seriously. Too seriously. Lines like “I feel infinite” are used to describe the emotions felt driving through tunnels with your best friends while listening to Bowie records, and are delivered with such sickening sincerity I didn’t know whether to cry, cringe or laugh out loud. Unfortunately, I spent most of the film in the latter two states.
Stephen Chbosky writes and directs the adaptation of his own novel telling the story of Charlie (Logan Lerman), a troubled, lonely boy who is just beginning his journey through high school. He starts this chapter of his life without a friend in the world but is found by free spirit Patrick (Ezra Miller) and his indie chic stepsister Sam (Emma Watson) and is soon embraced into their group of friends, something Sam refers to as the “island of misfit toys.”
Lerman is undoubtedly the star of the show and his shy boy-next-door demeanour makes the film’s version of Charlie a far more personable, believable and accessible character than his drippy counterpart featured in the original novel. Emma Watson, however, is fairly forgettable as Sam, a girl who spends nearly all her scenes talking about her “good taste in music” or the people she knows having “good taste in music” or complimenting Charlie on his “good taste in music” but has never heard of David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ prior to the film’s events. She does manage to escape the shadow of Hermione Granger though, and I have heard worse attempts at an American accent.
Ezra Miller puts in a good performance as sassy Patrick but I couldn’t help but feel disappointed at his casting. Perhaps that comes from knowing how blisteringly good he was in last year’s haunting We Need To Talk About Kevin; seeing him hiss camp lines like “I’d smoke all yo bitches” this time around, while soaking himself in a myriad of half baked soapy teen problems, made me wonder whether this role was actually beneath his considerable talents. But he’s likeable enough, and certainly provides a rather melancholy film with some much needed lighter moments, even if most feel more than a little forced.
The main problem with Perks is just how half baked those soapy teen problems are, which results in the whole film lacking a real sense of direction. We do follow Charlie across his whole first year in high school, but to what end? It’s like the film is constantly trying to say something profound but it’s not entirely sure what that might be. What’s more Chbosky seems to notice this and subsequently tries to jam as many of his novel’s subplots into the film in a bid to save it, but none of them work. Why? Because these subplots aren’t your usual, run of the mill trek through awkward adolescence: they include mental illness (something handled far better in the novel than the film, where its presence seems almost tacked on towards the end), teen suicide, domestic violence, closeted homosexuality, violent homophobia and, most prevalently, child abuse. Instead of tackling these issues sensibly and with tact, the whole movie descends into drawn out, angst filled soap operatics and, ultimately, a missed opportunity.
While I did like some moments of Perks I suppose the reason I couldn’t fully enjoy it was because, at the grand old age of twenty two, it’s the first movie that has ever made me feel old. If I was still of that age where the world seemed a dark and lonely place and listening to The Goo Goo Dolls could bring tears to my eyes perhaps I’d have been more enthusiastic, but I’m not and it didn’t made me feel nostalgic over my own high school days, nor jealous of those still living that life. I’m sure it will hit all the right notes with its intended demographic (the gaggle of fifteen year old girls that were also in the theatre stared up at the events unfolding on screen as if they were watching Citizen Kane) but for anyone over the age of seventeen, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower plays out like a book of poetry you might have written back in your The Catcher In The Rye days; constantly striving for meaningful philosophical planes but really something we’ll cringe about when we’re a little older.
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