Well acted and honestly written, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is perhaps the most emotionally arresting film I’ve seen this year.
The movie revolves around the struggles of an awkward and depressed high school freshman, Charlie, who is granted a chance to come out of his shell with the help of a group of new friends. Each of these friends are dealing with their own problems—Mary Elizabeth with concealed feelings of inferiority, Patrick a secret homosexual relationship, and Sam a history of disastrous relationships—and as the movie explores each character’s issues it tends to wander, particularly during the first half. It’s not easy at first to say exactly what the story of Wallflower is. But the relationship between friends Charlie, Patrick and Sam feels so real and so touching that it serves to provide an emotional backbone to the movie until the story really takes off. It helps that Wallflower is bolstered by some of the best performances from young actors in recent memory. Logan Lerman hits it out of the park with a blend of awkwardness, and open-hearted earnestness that makes for an eminently sympathetic protagonist. Emma Watson manages to somehow capture perfectly the mannerisms and speech of a confident high school student. The best performance in the film, though, might be that of Ezra Miller, who provides much of the movie’s comedy, but can be serious and intense when the mood requires it, acting as a sort of father-figure to Lerman’s Charlie. And while the dialogue is at times perhaps too sharp and too quick to be believable, once the movie finds its feet, you won’t notice, or care.
Wallflower’s one real misstep is a plot twist that comes too late in the film to make any real difference. The movie (and, doubtless, the novel it was based on) seems to have doubted itself, feeling the need to provide an extreme, traumatic explanation for Charlie’s shyness and his interpersonal issues. A series of scenes in which Charlie deals with his repressed childhood memories with the help of a psychiatrist neatly severs the flow of a movie that was, up until this point, not about childhood trauma but about Charlie’s friendship, and how that friendship shaped his character. The movie fails to connect its third-act plot twist adequately to the main storyline of the film, and in the end it comes off as unnecessary melodrama in a film that had, up until that point, achieved the perfect level of drama necessary.
It’s not a huge misstep, though, and it doesn’t detract from what is a brilliant coming-of-age story and an honest, reverent look at the emotional pain of high school. For those who can relate to the film, it’s sure to be an intensely moving experience. And for those whose high school years were not the traumatic experience portrayed in the movie, The Perks of Being a Wallflower can still work as an experience that is at times charming, funny, and above all heartfelt.