Coming-of-age, teen oriented dramas are undeniably an acquired taste. Like all genre films, they check off certain story structures, tropes, and indie music necessities. In spite of these constraints, the best of teen films are those that can expand beyond their formulaic nature and resonate emotionally with a universal audience.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is that film.
The film is based on the novel by Steven Chbosky. The auteur adapts his own work in what feels like a companion piece to the source material. Knowing the contents of his written project inside and out, Chbosky is able to amplify the portions of the film that work best in a visual medium and delete anything that better served the novel. While it’s likely impossible to reach the heights of a book with a film adaptation, this film comes extremely close.
The familiar story is told from the perspective of introverted writer Charlie Kelmeckis. The shy high school freshman has just gone through a great trauma. His best friend has committed suicide. His dear Aunt passed away in a tragic car accident while buying him a Christmas present.
Both are the source conflict for Charlie at the beginning of the film.
As he enters high school alone and friendless, he is immediately met with bullying and shaming for his shy nature and interest in academia and writing. It isn’t until he meets seniors Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson) when Charlie begins to unwrap his being and engage with his peers. The narrative is largely a coming-of-age tale of someone grappling with severe trauma at a young age. As he grows closer to his new acquaintances, Charlie begins to see parts of himself in others and fall in love.
Charlie’s story is so emotionally resonant that it would’ve been enough to carry the film. Further, Logan Lerman’s performance is nothing short of beautiful. That said, its the world Chbosky creates with the film that makes it so astonishing.
The central friend group is one viewers would have killed for in their own high school experiences – each crafted delicately with such nuanced personalities, goals, desires, and traumas. What’s more, the ability of Chbosky to reveal these personalities through the perspective of Charlie, further developing Charlie’s own status as a “wallflower,” a kindhearted, insightful introvert, is all the more impressive and engaging.
The central cast adds to their characters’ depth through brilliant, convincing performances as the respective friends. Ezra Miller’s turn as Patrick is brilliant, with his overcompensation of pain through humor acting as the centerpiece for his character.
Shedding away her reputation as Hermoine in Harry Potter, Emma Watson is able to live out the American high school experience she missed while filming the magical franchise. There’s no Hogwarts here, but her performance is surely magic. For someone as eloquent, confident and well read as Watson, its all the more impressive that she’s able to portray such a damaged, insecure young woman with ease.
Because the film takes place in the 1990s, it has an element of nostalgia – one of the aforementioned trope requirements in this genre.
Chbosky and music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas have an incredible time realizing the world of the film and its characters through the music. Like Charlie’s narrating of his friends, the music’s insertion into the plot of the film is elegant and fitting. Viewers will immediately demand a copy of the soundtrack upon their first viewing of the film.
Stripping away the music, the beautiful imagery, and the incredible performances, Perks is a story for the shy everyman. In telling a story of a lonely, isolated kid, it makes those at home watching that much less alone.