The Perks of Being a Wallflower Review

(3.5 STARS)

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is, at its worst, the best episode of Glee ever. No, there aren’t any musical numbers—though music itself does play an important part throughout the film—but the boyfriend/girlfriend (and boyfriend/boyfriend) drama is a little much. And the film’s message of acceptance is so sweet and gooey that it’s almost sickening.

At its best, however, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of the year’s most earnest and endearing motion pictures with just the right amount of nostalgia and a star-making, Oscar-worthy performance from leading man Logan Lerman.

The film is based on a very popular novel of the same name written by Stephen Chbosky, who also wrote and directed its screen adaptation. Lerman plays Charlie, a soon-to-be high school freshman who’s withdrawn and friendless after a series of tragedies and subsequent mental breakdowns. He’s a good kid, by and large, who finds peace in writing, but even before his first day of high school, he’s counting down the days until his graduation.

And predictably, school is rough. He actually makes a friend on his first day, but sadly, it’s his English teacher, Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd). Before long, however, Charlie bonds with Patrick (Ezra Miller) and his step-sister, Sam (Emma Watson). Both seniors, the former is homosexual having a secret love affair with a very popular jock, while the latter struggles to quell rumors about a promiscuous past.

Patrick and Sam happily adopt Charlie into their group of outcasts—the “island of misfit toys”—and Charlie is thriving like never before. But he longs for Sam, so intensely, so secretly. His timidness and indecision hold him back to a degree, but time isn’t on his side. Sam, Patrick, and the rest of the gang are graduating and moving away for college, and when they do, dark days will be upon Charlie once again.

Because The Perks of Being a Wallflower is telling such a familiar story, it’s needs a special element to make it feel necessary and relevant. This film actually has several, but the biggest, and most pleasantly surprising, is Logan Lerman’s performance. Charlie has a very natural, sort of dorky charm, and you see him struggle with it over the course of the entire film. He’s a kid who just doesn’t really know how to act around others who are all much more confident than he is. Charlie is incredibly relatable. If you weren’t a Charlie yourself, you definitely knew one—perhaps you still do. As the film moves along toward a surprising and surprisingly dramatic final act, Lerman gets a chance to really emote and show his stuff. There’s not a moment when the young man looks to be in over his head. It’s marvelous work and, hopefully, a sign of more great things to come.

This final act turn is another reason The Perks of Being a Wallflower rises above its genre and the cliches associated with it. Its in this material that we realize how important Chbosky’s touch is to the film as a whole. There’s a somewhat bewildering series of flashbacks that runs throughout the film and only pays off late. Chbosky keeps his cards close to his chest until the river when he flips over a full house. His somewhat generic direction is instantly replaced by a bold, unique style of visual storytelling. His cuts become quicker; His musical cues become more intense and emotional. If you’re with The Perks of Being a Wallflower early, you’ll really admire what Chbosky does after halftime.

Though Lerman is easily the acting standout, the rest of the cast is aces, as well. Ezra Miller has the showiest role, and appropriately, he steals many scenes. Gone is Emma Watson’s British accent and Hermione Granger-esque bushy hair. Her American accent is fine; Her performance as Sam is very good. She’s alluring, damaged, and most importantly, the impetus Charlie needs to come out of his shell.

Because The Perks of Being a Wallflower is telling a universal, timeless story about love and believing in oneself, audiences of all ages should find something to enjoy. Even if you ultimately feel it’s heavy-handed or too on-the-nose, it still features moments of laugh-out-loud humor that lighten the mood considerably. It’s just a film that knows itself well and manages to hit all the right notes, as a result.

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