Unless you’re a resident of Shermer High School (of John Hughes movie fame) the chances of graduating from a cinematic educational institute without developing deep-seated emotional problems are pretty slim. In Movieland everything about school is either so wonderfully saccharine (Prom, High School Musical) that two seconds in the real world will make you collapse in on yourself or it’s so bleak (Elephant, Blackbird) that actual survival is a 50/50 challenge. Every once in a while a High School finds it’s place in the middle. The Perks Of Being A Wallflower is that once in a while.
1386 Days. That’s how long Charlie (Logan Lerman) has to endure if he wants to survive high school. A freshman, distanced from his previous friends through time and cliques, Charlie is adopted into a new group who tread the thin line between popular and outsiders. With the help of the group, led by siblings by marriage Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller), Charlie experiences his first date, first kiss and first love while trying to keep a handle on his first psychotic breakdown.
Those quick to judge will be typing #firstworldproblems without a moments hesitation when faced with a plot synopsis like the one above. And those unwilling to concede that well-off, good looking people have problems too would do best to give Perks a wide berth. Those less cynical will ultimately find themselves falling for these characters in spite of their overly perky peculiarities.
But it will take time. As the film begins it seems stuck in Garden State-like aesthetics, pulverising the audience with an alt-pop soundtrack and crippling under the weight of the most irritating trend in recent indie love stories; characters professing their love for pop culture. Desperately obvious, the idea is that by listing as many songs, books and movies that these characters like the writer will somehow connect with the audience with an “I like that too!” level of similitude.
For anyone with even a passing interest in cinema, a conversation about The Smiths (in which Smiths fans seem amazed that someone else could possibly like The Smiths) merely conjures up memories of (500) Days Of Summer and the inspired line that “Just because some girl likes the same bizzaro crap you do, doesn’t make you soul mates”. Equally, just because a character in a movie has a cool poster of that film you like on their wall, doesn’t mean we should instantly like them. It’s a trite, cheap and all too familiar trick in movies recently and it must be stopped. Especially when it becomes integral to the plot that these “music lovers” don’t know who David Bowie is.
Eventually, however, these foibles fall away and and as we spend more time in the film and character’s presence it takes a cold heart to still feel nothing towards this band of misfit toys. Even, yes even, when they refer to themselves as misfit toys. This is all, in no small part, down to a trio of incredibly likeable performances that keep the film from drifting into tweedom.
Most eyes will be on Emma Watson to see if she can break free from franchise and typecasting hell now there is no more Potter. The choice of Sam for her most public non-Hermione role so far is tinged with more than a hint of genius. Not fully adult to seem a leap, not childish enough to seem old hat, the role of Sam lets her be precocious and sexy. Her rendition of ‘Touch Me’ from Rocky Horror will have Ruperts everywhere falling in love all over again. Her agent deserves a hefty bonus this Christmas.
Another cast member looking to escape the shadow of a single character is Ezra ‘Kevin from We Need To Talk About Kevin‘ Miller. The antithesis of his monstrous, dead-eyed teen, here Ezra is free-spirited, gets all the best lines and is camper than the day is long. That the film still belongs wholeheartedly to lead Logan Lerman is nothing short of a minor miracle on his part.
Writer/director Stephen Chbosky, adapting his own work, may not have given us much in the way of a calling card but he has done enough to make sure his novel hasn’t been bastardised by Hollywood. While Perks may not give any indication of his longevity in the industry, there’s a very good chance we’ll be seeing a lot more of these kids for many years to come.
Perks Of Being A Wallflower successfully captures the finite nature of the highs and lows of high school. Some character quirks will irritate as many as they endear, but with all-encompassing themes such as ‘life is better with friends’ and ‘good guys can finish first’ there’s enough in this adaptation to warrant a recommendation. Especially if the perils of high school are currently bringing you down.