The Perks of being a Wallflower started life as a book by Stephen Chbosky, (who also wrote and directed the film), which follows a year in the life of 15 year-old outsider Charlie as he embarks on his freshman year at high school. The youngest of 3 children, Charlie is intelligent, sensitive and introverted, too scared even to answer questions in his English class, despite being a keen writer. The film follows the highs and lows of his blossoming friendship with two seniors- Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson)- self-confessed fellow wallflowers as they navigate a year in their teenage lives. The threesome get to know each other through a series of parties and proms, and support each other through current and past traumas.
All three leads are superb. Ezra Miller is electric as Patrick, the openly gay, secret-boyfriend of the captain of the football team and Logan Lerman plays protagonist Charlie with both quiet reserve and startling passion. Even Emma Watson, who is best known for her youthful turn in THAT wizarding franchise, is both joyous and fragile in her role as “school slut”, shaking off any possible aspersions about her previous acting credentials.
As well as the young leads, it boasts an excellent supporting cast of grown-ups, from the always-loveable Paul Rudd as Charlie’s favourite teacher, to Dylan McDermott as his father, Joan Cusack as his psychiatrist and Melanie Lynskey as Aunt Helen.
The novel was published in 1999, so the world the characters inhabit is a mid-90’s middle America, meaning the parties and proms are given a fabulous soundtrack, from artists such as Bowie, Sonic Youth and The Smiths to forgotten tracks like “Low” by Cracker. This is a soundtrack that will definitely be getting added to my collection shortly.
The Perks of being a Wallflower is that rare film which really lets the characters drive the narrative. Issues such as incest, mental illness, sexual abuse and homophobia are tackled in very elegant and sensitive ways. Nothing really happens beyond the passage of time and evocation of memory, but it is both moving, compelling and acutely well-observed. It is a film that would sit happily alongside The Breakfast Club and Say Anything in a film collection, and indeed has elements of Cameron Crowe’s use of music as an extra character in the film. It is sure to evoke nostalgia in anyone who was a fellow teenage wallflower, and left me with tears running down my face, both from joy and sadness.
5 out of 5