Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Movie Review: The Perks Of Being A Wallflower (2012)


A coming-of-age drama, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower introduces serious issues to the typical high school milieu, but skirts almost all of the more challenging conversations.

In Pittsburgh, introverted and quiet Charlie (Logan Lerman) is starting his first high school year after a tough summer in which he coped with depression. After initially finding it difficult to make friends, Charlie connects with two senior students, the gay extrovert Patrick (Ezra Miller) and his step-sister Sam (Emma Watson). Patrick is in a secretive relationship with Brad (Johnny Simmons), while Sam is overcoming her promiscuous reputation, and working hard to get into college.

Charlie finds support from his English teacher Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd), and also meets Patrick and Sam's friends Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman) and Alice (Erin Wilhelmi). But he develops a deep crush on Sam, who is unfortunately already dating Craig (Reece Thompson). Eventually Charlie starts an unconvincing relationship with Mary Elizabeth, but his heart is really elsewhere.

Directed and written by Stephen Chbosky as an adaptation of his own novel, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower aims for a wistful and low-key vibe, and often succeeds. With just a few humorous moments, this is a more-sombre-than-usual look at the trials and tribulations of high school life, although the characters' overall tone of optimism ensures the film does not descend into pathos.

Chbosky is clearly intent on portraying high school teens grappling with real problems, and weaves themes of loneliness, fitting in, loss of friends, depression, and abuse into the narrative. But the film never gathers the courage to tackle the issues head-on. A friend's suicide, an adult's abuse, a stint at a mental institute, a father's rage against his gay son, and a girl driven into frequent meaningless sex: all the key incidents happen off-screen, the topics are mentioned in about one sentence, checked-off, and summarily left behind.

What remains is much more standard fare coming-of-age material. Charlie has a hopeless crush on the impossibly perky but seemingly unavailable Sam from the minute he sees her; Patrick is extraordinarily friendly and helpful, and Mr. Anderson is just about perfect as the hip young teacher who spots and nurtures Charlie's love of reading and writing. The travails of friendships will go up and down in predictable cycles and end at just the perfect intersection of melancholy and effervescent.

The cast members are all dedicated to their roles and help nourish the film's emotions. Logan Lerman delivers a Michael Cera-type performance, but registers the least because Charlie is mostly a, well, wallflower. Ezra Miller gets to inject most of the energy, while Emma Watson is radiant but Sam is written to be a mythically flawless love interest.

The Perks Of Being Wallflower is not content to sit at the edge of the room, but neither is it willing to dance to the edgier tunes.






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