The American high school is a battlefield, bursting with stereotypes, the divide between jocks and so-called ‘wallflowers’ the focus of many a teen film. Heathers (1988) perfectly embodies the popular versus outsider conflict and reiterates just how cool it is to be different. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is by no means as defining as Heathers but there are certainly elements for a new generation to cling on to.
After a traumatic event results in Charlie (Logan Lerman) isolating himself from the world one summer, he begins his freshman year at high school as a loner and introvert. The only person who can see his potential is friendly English teacher Mr Anderson (Paul Rudd) who punctuates his education with classic literature and encouragement. After the typical eating alone in the cafeteria shot is revealed, we feel we know what is coming, and sure enough along comes quirky extrovert Patrick (charismatically portrayed by the beguiling Ezra Miller). Soon Charlie is initiated into a gang of self—proclaimed ‘misfits’ by getting high and saying it like it is, and he meets and immediately falls for Patrick’s promiscuous step-sister Sam (Emma Watson). Life becomes full of trendy mixtapes, experimental drugs and re-enactments of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). But things are never straightforward in the life of a teenager, and as his friendships develop, the trio’s various deep-rooted issues rise to the surface.
This is full of clichés, but it still manages to surprise in parts and is entertaining for most of the duration. A brief narrative strand unexpectedly develops towards the end of the film and suddenly gives a more serious tone to the story. It certainly feels like it is not trying to offer something completely new but rather spin a slightly different perspective on a well-known tale. Logan Lerman comes into his own as Charlie and Miller shows he can do camp just as well as he can do sociopath (the eponymous Kevin of We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)). Emma Watson is a little awkward at times and not wholeheartedly convincing but proves herself away from the Harry Potter franchise, with the addition of a pretty believable American accent.
It does feel refreshing to have a male wallflower lead character and whilst not being a perfect film, Perks has enough story and heart to be endearing. The characters are well written and Chbosky does a solid job of adapting his novel and directing it for the screen. The overall story is not predictable and reaches a satisfying conclusion. The aforementioned narrative strand does feel a little rushed over and squeezed in at the end but there are redeeming elements such as the avoidance of tying everything up in a nice neat rose-tinted bow. The main characters also become far more than mere stereotypes, despite the almost painful discussion of The Smiths and other such ‘cool’ music by the exploratory teens.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is not a genre defining or boundary pushing film, instead it embraces the familiar rules and subtly embellishes them, resulting in an enjoyable and at times moving film with an authentic feel. The clichés and stereotypes may not be dealt with in the best possible way, they are neither self-reflective or exaggerated enough, but they feel appropriate for the film. This is not a cult teen film in my eyes but I’m sure it will capture the imagination of a slightly younger generation who might be mildly confused by the existence of mixtapes!
The Perks of being a Wallflower is out on DVD and Blu-Ray on 11th February 2013.
Director: Stephen Chbosky
Writer: Stephen Chbosky
Stars: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Paul Rudd
Runtime: 102 mins