The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
I tried to like the acclaimed The Perks of Being a Wallflower, a coming-of-age tale from Stephen Chbosky. The novelist wrote the book in 1999 and directed the film based on his book in 2012. He also wrote the screenplay for the movie version of Rent, so there’s that.
I’m all for flicks that deal with the oddballs of life. But for all of this picture’s insistence on dealing in “the island of misfit toys,” it’s hard to take the idea seriously given the characters’ propensity to party, make out, wear suits and dresses, and generally act ridiculously trendy. It’s as if everyone in the movie is in perpetual preparation for life on the New York art scene.
So we meet Charlie (Logan Lerman), an introverted kid nervous about starting his freshman year at high school. He is predictably shy and has trouble making friends. His only connection is with his English teacher (Paul Rudd). This changes when he takes a chance on meeting the loquacious older student Patrick (Ezra Miller) at a football game. His half-sister Sam (Emma Watson) becomes an object of instant interest.
The three become fast friends – and I mean fast – and share all sorts of experiences. The group expands. There are parties, pot brownies, drugs, kissing, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, truth or dare, Secret Santas, vintage stuff, hip music, SATs, cafeteria fights, black-outs, etc. Somewhere in the haze, Charlie gets a girlfriend (Mae Whitman) and dumps the girlfriend unceremoniously.
The thing is that Charlie has far more problems than just being introverted and quiet. The movie tries to “explain” his problems with socialization by planting a mystery in his past, something that is revealed through shards of flashbacks involving his aunt (Melanie Lynskey). We don’t get to know what happened until the last bit of the film.
This curveball implies that Charlie finds himself locked in a pattern of repression, something he’s been treated for and something his family helps him deal with somewhat. But it’s his new pals that really make the difference, so it’s no small wonder that their departure for college leaves him feeling stranded.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower patches together Charlie’s life in episodic fashion, with each one doing much to deflate that idea that he and his pals are somehow socially challenged. There is always some sort of formal affair around the corner and the characters take to The Rocky Horror Picture Show with delight.
As the movie moves along, it becomes harder and harder to accept the tale of these affluent, suburban white kids as some sort of misfit exploration. Dumping in a series of social catches (he’s gay, she’s a slut, he blacks out in a Hulk-like rage, his best friend shot himself) is an addendum to put beef on the bones of a set of rather insipid characters and Chbosky seems irresolute as to how to draw it all together.
There is nothing gangling or awkward about the characters. Imagining Watson as an outcast takes a great leap of faith, but all the revelry in fine evening wear undoes any shot The Perks of Being a Wallflower has at being authentic. That may be fine for some, but I had trouble getting over the hump.
Still, I didn’t hate this movie. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is far from genuine, but it features a solid performance from the enchanting Miller and some decent dialogue from time to time. It also digs into 90s angst well and has some good humour. But most of it rings untrue, signifying yet another slack coming-of-age affair in a sea of far too many uninspiring contemporaries.