With Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Dylan McDermott, Kate Walsh. Written and directed by Stephen Chbosky. Rated PG-13 on appeal for mature thematic material, drug and alcohol use, sexual content including references, and a fight – all involving teens. 105 minutes.
THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER is a movie that parents and teenagers ought to see… but not together. It is a funny and touching look at adolescence and the raw emotions that are part of that stage of life. Adults may or may not want to share the memories it dredges up with their kids, while teens might not want their parents to know how much of the film they get. It is the best film about high school in years.
All too often, movies about teenagers are raucous comedies about sex or drugs or how many bodily fluids can be expelled in a single film. “Perks” is about what it’s really like to be a teenager, when that first love seems so intense precisely because it is a first love, and the pains and anxieties seem unendurable for much the same reason. Adolescence is a stage we survive and which can make us stronger and wiser if we don’t let it overwhelm us.
Charlie (Logan Lerman) is a ninth grader entering high school in 1991. He has issues for reasons that only slowly get revealed over the course of the film, including the fact that one of his friends has committed suicide. He’s a bit of an introvert and doesn’t know if he will be the success that his parents (Dylan McDermott, Kate Walsh) want him to be. He is taken under the wing of two seniors, Patrick (Ezra Miller) and his stepsister Sam (Emma Watson), and learns that not only the “cool kids” get to survive high school.
In an early scene, they take him to a party and Sam tells him, “Welcome to the Island of Misfit Toys.” It is a line that perfectly captures the spirit of the movie. It’s wise and witty, referencing the old animated “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” TV special, but also letting Charlie know that he’s not alone in not fitting into the adolescent mainstream in high school. Over the course of the year, he will make many discoveries about himself and his friends, and learn that he’s strong enough to survive the disappointments and mistakes, while drawing strength from the friends who appreciate what he has to offer.
Writer Steve Chbosky has come a long way from the obscure 1995 Gen-X film he directed, “The Four Corners Of Nowhere,” having worked on the TV series “Jericho” and written the novel on which the film is based. He both wrote and directed this adaptation, clearly wanting to preserve what made this a personal project. He has succeeded admirably, getting marvelous performances from his cast. Watson, best known as Hermione in the octet of “Harry Potter” films, portrays an American teenager without missing a beat. Sam is a character who screwed up when she was younger and is now trying to straighten out so she can get into the college of her choice. As her brother, Ezra Miller has the showy role, extroverted and gay, but who suffers because the boy he has been involved with is so deeply closeted he must be publicly abusive to Patrick.
Lerman, perhaps best known as the lead in the ongoing “Percy Jackson” film adaptations, threads the needle as Charlie, letting us see that perfectly “normal” teens can have serious issues that require more than a “there, there” or a stern talking to. When, late in the film, we discover the source of his emotional distress, we admire his strength in holding it together rather than be critical for his supposed weakness.
“The Perks Of Being A Wallflower” is a funny and moving look at being an American teenager. You may laugh. You may shed a tear. You will likely see some part of your life reflected on screen. That’s why parents and teens might not want to watch it together, but they sure will want to talk about it afterwards.***
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide will be released in January 2013. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.