Directed by: Stephen Chbosky
Premise: Adapted from the novel, a pair of high school misfits (Emma Watson and Ezra Miller) takes in a socially awkward freshman (Logan Lerman).
What Works: The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a picture that manages to simultaneously operate within the framework of a high school movie while providing a lot more substance than these kinds of films usually allow. The Perks of Being a Wallflower has a solid foundation in its casting and the three lead actors give very good performances. Logan Lerman plays the lead and he is very watchable. Upon reflection, Lerman’s performance is more impressive than might be apparent while watching The Perks of Being a Wallflower for the first time. The character does not actually do very much; a lot of the action consists of subtle but important beats in what are largely sedentary scenes and the way Lerman carries himself—and the way the filmmakers smartly stage the action and photograph him—draws attention to those choices to reveal his character. Emma Watson and Ezra Miller play high school upperclassmen who take in Lerman’s character and of the two Miller’s role is especially notable. The gay sidekick has become a cliché of the high school genre and characters like Miller’s are often presented as flamboyant stereotypes. The Perks of Being a Wallflower does much more with the character than the average adolescent drama and when the character encounters bullying and heartbreak it is much more authentic and therefore more potent. And this is indicative of what makes The Perks of Being a Wallflower exceptional. Although it is a story about high school students it often subverts the paradigm of such a story. Most high school stories are about social castes; protagonists are usually in lower social strata and the drama of the story is based on characters aspiring to a higher position or learning to accept their place in the pecking order. The filmmakers of The Perks of Being a Wallflower do not reject that conceit but they do complicate it. The caste systems of most high school movies have little to do with the realities of adolescence or of life; the jocks are always macho sociopaths, the nerds are always unfashionable dweebs, and the artisans are always virtuous dreamers and there is no overlap between them. Although The Perks of Being a Wallflower does start from that point the filmmakers complicate the relationships between students and between groups. The result is a portrayal of social life that is much more nuanced and speaks to life’s complexities and contradictions.
What Doesn’t: As much as The Perks of Being a Wallflower subverts the typical high school narrative it also follows the basic outline seen in everything from John Hughes movies like The Breakfast Club to television shows like Glee. In that respect it is rather predictable. Like many other adolescent films, The Perks of Being a Wallflower also suffers as a Hollywood interpretation of high school. Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller and especially Emma Watson are too attractive and polished to be credible outcasts, although the actors are so good that their performances more than compensate. The film has bigger problems with its ending. The story includes an unnecessarily complex subplot in which Lerman’s character copes with a childhood trauma. This is handled clumsily, especially in the ending, where it introduces too many new ideas too late in the narrative and it does not coalesce with the themes and tone of the rest of the story.
Bottom Line: Whatever problems it has in the ending, enough is done well or exceptionally well in The Perks of Being a Wallflower to make it an above average coming-of-age story. The film’s portrait of adolescence is intelligent and nuanced, distinguishing this picture from so many like it.
Episode: #415 (November 18, 2012)