“The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” Stephen Chbosky’s 1999 hit young-adult novel and second foray into film directing, has been met with mixed critical reviews, but general popular approval. Though touted as both a “Catcher in the Rye” and “Breakfast Club” of our generation, neither version of Chbosky’s work honestly measures up to these paragons of coming-of-age malaise.
Our titular wallflower is Charlie (Logan Lerman), who communicates in the novel through letters to an unknown recipient. In the film, most of this narrative style is changed to voiceover monologues, which work pretty well. Charlie’s had a rough couple of years, between the suicide of his best friend and the death of his favorite aunt. We meet him on his terrifying first day of high school, made all the more frightening by Charlie’s complete lack of social skills. Given his troubled past, can we really fault him for this? The only friend he makes on day one is his English teacher (Paul Rudd), who, in true English teacher style, immediately recognizes a receptive pupil in Charlie, and begins giving him extra curricular reading assignments and friendly advice.
Eventually, Charlie makes friends with the flamboyantly gay Patrick (Ezra Miller), and through him, his alt-rock loving stepsister, Sam (Emma Watson, in her first major post-Hogwarts role), who quickly becomes Charlie’s crush. These free-spirited seniors also notice Charlie’s potential, and take him under their wing, inducting him into their friend group, which Sam lovingly calls “the island of misfit toys,” a line which might have been better had Watson quite gotten a grasp of the American accent she’s aiming for throughout the film.
Aspiring writer Charlie spends his time making mix tapes, hanging out in diners and reveling in his newfound friendships. But this new world of friends and parties comes with its own set of issues: that permanent stumbling block of any self-respecting (or not) adolescent-identity. As Charlie discovers who he is, and how this new self fits into his past and his future, he tries to help his friends in their own quests for self understanding before they leave for college in the fall.
The movie is not bad, especially for one directed by the original novelist–a situation generally avoided by Hollywood for a reason. Emma Watson makes a decidedly un-Hermione-like showing, which was definitely her intention, and Ezra Miller is funny in a sarcastically over the top, stereotypical kind of way, a complete turnaround from his last role in “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” On the other hand, Rudd is seriously underused, and Lerman looks a little too much like someone who should be sitting at the popular table to be a wallflower. His character lacks that fantastically original voice which makes Holden Caulfield so iconic, and the film pales in comparison to the fleeting intersection of social status and personality that “The Breakfast Club” studies. In trying so hard to emulate these teen greats, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” falls into some been-there, done-that coming-of-age tropes, but the heart is still there, and that keeps the film from flopping entirely.