Stephen Chbosky’s directorial debut sees him adapt his own novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, for the big screen. A coming-of-age drama starring Logan Lerman, We Need to Talk about Kevin’s Ezra Miller and Emma Watson in her ongoing endeavour to no longer be associated as simply the blockbusting Harry Potter franchise’s Hermione Granger.
Introverted and insecure teenager Charlie (Lerman) is about to begin his freshman year at high school. He’s smart, bookish and well dressed, culminating in him ultimately becoming a social pariah. Life at home isn’t much different, with Charlie’s sister and parents tip-toeing around him, constantly asking if he’s okay due to an undisclosed past incident that has seemingly contributed to his lack of social skills. However, when he meets outwardly confident and gregarious senior Patrick (Miller) and his fashionable step-sister Sam (Watson) Charlie’s life takes a radical twist, finally finding somewhere he belongs, no longer just a observant wallflower.
Although The Perks of Being a Wallflower does well to portray teen angst in an entirely relatable way, any film as littered with 1990s cult references and contrived dialogue (“I feel infinite”) is bound to have difficulty resonating with a young contemporary audience. Failing to hold a mirror up to today’s youth due to its ‘period’ backdrop, Chbosky’s film paints a rather nostalgic world built around exchanging mix-tapes and communicating without the assistance of social networking – a trip down memory lane for anyone who remembers listening to a Sony Walkman whilst waiting to use a payphone to call for a lift home.
With Chbosky adapting his own novel, the film justifiably benefits from a strong understanding of its central characters, with Lerman, Watson and Miller clearly benefiting from having such a beneficial resource behind the camera. Lerman is a quiet revelation as the film’s timid protagonist, whilst Watson does a fair job of establishing herself as a serious actor, however, it’s Miller who steals the show, continuing to add to his phenomenal turns in After School (2008) and We Need to Talk about Kevin (2011), marking himself out as one of Hollywood’s hottest young talents.
Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower is undeniably guilty of pandering to the same maudlin, melodramatic and formulaic mentality that often infects such high school dramas, however, whilst struggling to deal with its darker, underlying subtext, the film, much like its reclusive protagonist, manages to carve out its own identity amongst a sea of vapid imitators.