Suburban Pittsburgh, the early ’90s. Freshman Charlie (Lerman) is having trouble fitting in — his English teacher (Rudd) is the best friend he has. Then, he falls in with a group of older punk-Goth kids, including the homosexual Patrick (Miller) and his stepsister Sam (Watson).
You'd be right to approach with caution any movie that tackles the pitfalls and plateaus of adolescence. High-school coming-of-age is fraught with tedious cliché and too often written by people either misremembering their own distant youth, or aghastly observing their hormone-unhinged offspring. On the surface, Stephen Chbosky’s film, based on his 1999 novel, appears avoidable. It ladles in acid trips, teen suicide, Rocky Horror, Tom Savini, homosexuality, truth-or-dare and Dexys Midnight Runners. Actually, that does sound pretty accurate...
Like the average teen, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower is often clumsy and awkward. Chbosky’s technical direction is scrappy, and every now and then the script drops a clunker (“How long have you been boyfriend and girlfriend?”). Yet there is something about it that just chimes. The period setting helps, making these teens as relatable to thirtysomethings as teens themselves. Plus the soundtrack is inherently superior (one surprisingly magical moment sees Charlie, Sam and Patrick blissing out to Heroes and wondering,“What IS this song?”).
Crucially, though, Chbosky has cast his story well. Ezra Miller is lumbered with the ‘flamboyant GBFF’ role, but handles it with care. As ‘wallflower’ Charlie, Logan Lerman is surprisingly likable. With Charlie narrating via letters to an imaginary penpal we see his world unfurl into confusing, terrifying and amazing complexity, and even when his predicament takes a melodramatic turn, he remains an effective emotional conduit. Then there’s Emma Watson, all growed up and turned Transatlantic as the nerdy teen boys’ ideal girl. The American accent suits her, as does the post-Hermione loosening up. She’ll go far.
An honest, affection-hooking, coming-of-age drama which proves that there is life beyond Hogwarts for Emma Watson.