The Perks of Being a Wallflower review

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a comedy drama set in the US in the early 1990s, and is directed by Stephen Chbosky, who also wrote the novel. Clever chap. Starring Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller and, perhaps most notably, Harry Potter starlet Emma Watson, it tells the story of a deeply introverted and troubled freshman who is taken under the wings of two seniors.

Charlie, played by Lerman, is the kind of quiet, awkward teen that it’s easy to empathise with. He struggles to make friends at high school until he eventually falls in with two seniors, Sam (Watson) and her stepbrother Patrick (played wonderfully by Miller of We Need To Talk About Kevin notoriety). This is where life begins for Charlie in what is a beautifully observed, touching tale which perfectly treads the tightrope between comedy and drama. There are some seriously heavy issues – about growing up, sex, death, guilt, relationships, violence and intense family troubles – but they are dealt with intelligently and there are plenty of genuinely funny moments of teenage cringeworthiness to balance things out. From gentle strokes of levity such as when one of the female teens is trying to seduce Charlie with her worldliness (“let the wine breathe”) to some huge belly laughs, like when a college student is asked “Do you write poetry?” he pauses, and replies, “Poetry writes me.”

Watson proves her acting chops (complete with American accent) as the seemingly confident Sam who is actually a mess of insecurity, while her extroverted brother Patrick has his own problems to deal with and secrets to keep. Sheltering in their bohemian lifestyle, the pair play out like a sweeter, less cynical and non-manipulative version of the brother and sister in The Dreamers.

The soundtrack is great too. With classics from The Smiths to Nick Drake via Dexy’s, the mix tapes that are passed between the group are an icon that will mean a lot to viewers of a certain age. The importance of Bowie’s Heroes in the movie has caused no small amount of comment. Charlie, Sam and Patrick are in the car when the song comes on the radio. “What’s this?” they wonder. The issue of whether it is conceivable that the trio would know of Nick Drake but wouldn’t be familiar with one of Bowie’s classics has raised a few eyebrows. So much so that writer and director Chbosky was obliged to discuss it in a Vanity Fair interview. He said, “In the early 90s, David Bowie was Let’s Dance to me. He was that guy. The whole 70s Bowie, because I was more into grunge, I came late to him. Listen, if you say to me, ‘The kids not knowing Heroes, it’s not realistic,’ I will cop to it! Anyone who has a bone to pick, I can’t argue. But I swear to god, it was real!”

It’s a fair enough explanation and there are two ways of dealing with it. You can either get nitpicky and snippy about the fact that these supercool kids have never heard Heroes, or you can just ride with it and immerse yourself in this otherwise entirely believable world that Chbosky has carved for his characters. Your experience will be immeasurably better if you choose the latter.

Bowie unfamiliarity or not, it’s likely this film will appeal as much to those of us who were once teenagers as it does to those who currently are. Even though all three main characters have some massive demons to contend with, they still inhabit a delicious world of classic literature, great music and close friendship. It seems there are no troubles that they can’t escape simply through the joy of speeding down the highway with their windows down while Heroes blares from the car stereo. And it’s that essence of youthful infinity that resounds and makes The Perks of Being a Wallflower such a charm. It’s one of the films of 2012, no doubt.


Review by Bobby Townsend