The long-awaited movie version of Stephen Chbosky’s 1999 novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Summit Entertainment, October 2012; PG-13) celebrates the 90s, the mix tape, friendship, love, and the benefits both of observing life and participating in it. What could have been cloying is in fact a sensitive coming-of-age film. And though there are some hiccups, Chbosky, who wrote the screenplay and directed, does an excellent job of adapting his epistolary classic for the big screen.
Those who have tattered copies of Perks held together with scotch tape and hope will not be disappointed; Chbosky is largely faithful to his original story. The movie follows Charlie, a suburban teen “wallflower” who recently lost his aunt and his best friend and who struggles with depression, as he navigates his freshman year of high school. Charlie begins coming into his own once he befriends seniors Patrick and Sam, stepsiblings who introduce him to decent music, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, parties, drugs, booze, and a sense of belonging.
First things first, I must absolutely rave about Logan Lerman’s performance as Charlie. Percy Jackson, who knew you had it in you? He stops and starts, slumps and strides, and is overall utterly convincing in playing a damaged introvert with a beautiful soul. If you are not half in love with him by the end of the film, you need to listen to some good songs ASAP. Seriously, stop reading this and go play rock ballads on repeat until you can feel again.
Ezra Miller and Paul Rudd are also delightful in their roles as Patrick and Mr. Anderson, respectively. As for Emma Watson’s portrayal of Sam? Well, it’s not, as they said in the 90s, all that and a bag of chips. She is lovely when her acting relies on her facial expressions alone (the scene where her upturned face is lifted toward the night sky as she stands in the back of a racing truck is one of the most powerful in the movie), but some of her lines are delivered like they have weights attached to them. Where is the passion? The spark that makes Sam such an intoxicating character? With so much directorial attention focused on Charlie, Sam is rendered flat.
Visually, the film is a pleasure. The lighting emphasizes shadows and spotlights, allowing the camera to linger over Charlie’s lonely typewriter or Patrick’s bruised face. But it also captures the smokiness of a dimly lit basement party, the excitement of a Rocky Horror show, and the glaring vulnerability of a fluorescent-lit high school cafeteria.
Chobosky’s latest project is, like the mix tapes Charlie spends so much time constructing, a combination that somehow works together. It’s funny and poignant and romantic and tragic. Perks relays the magic of living in the present and the idea that just the right song at just the right moment can indeed make you feel “infinite.”