For those of us beyond our teenage years, cultural artifacts documenting the high school experience are sometimes of little interest, since the mark of a quality work about teens tends to be misunderstood and slightly tainted by those superior college years. This has certainly been the case with The Perks of Being a Wallflower. One of the most contested works, the book was first published by MTV Books in 1999, although its focus is the high school experience of a group of friends in the early 90s. What gives any teen work its power is its honesty, and fortunately that is something that the film adaptation of the beloved novel retains.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower centers on Charlie (Logan Lerman) enduring his first year of high school. Due to an unfortunate series of circumstances, Charlie is a loner, but not by choice. He doesn’t immediately fit in anywhere, being too intellectual for even the ‘smart’ kids. However, he does shyly seek out Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson), seniors in his class, who epitomize the kind of cool lonely outsider kids often aspire to be. Patrick and Sam, realizing Charlie’s situation, take him under their wing, and induct him into the coming of age rights of passage that feel both specific and universal.
A film of this nature benefits from director Stephen Chbosky adapting his own work. He has the necessary perspective to use his original material when needed but also to change weaker aspects of the novel in order to create a more effective film. Adapting any novel is tough, but novels told in the first person are particularly difficult and run the risk of relying too heavily on the dreaded voice over. Chbosky smartly limits narration from his protagonist, only using it to frame segments of the story. Additionally, the film adroitly employs visual cues, as well as stylistic cuts and flashbacks to convey the main character’s inner viewpoint.
Besides being smarty told, The Perks of Being a Wallflower has an excellent young cast. All three of the leads act with an earnestness and depth that, were the film lacking, would make it feel trite. Instead, they make it easy to empathize with them, drawing the audience in with their sincerity. Watson in particular shines as a character that would too easily be lumped in with other Manic Pixie Dream Girls if not for the caliber of her performance.
While some of the film’s heavier topics may feel a bit unrealistic piled on one after the other, it is the clear commitment of everyone involved, the attention to detail, and the great cast that make this a must see for anyone with the mental fortitude to walk down those locker strewn hallways. Who knows, it may leave you wanting to call old friends and dig out those mixtapes at the bottom of your closet.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower opens today at the Ritz East.
“This is the business we’ve chosen!” Jill Malcolm and Ryan Silberstein, two self-described film aficionados, tell it like it is about the latest and greatest movies. They are Contributing editors here at Cinedelphia, writing partners, and founders of Filmhash.com.