Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 42 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Mature Thematic Material, Drug and Alcohol Use, Sexual Content including References, and a Fight -all involving Teens
Directed by: Stephen Chbosky
Written by: Stephen Chbosky
(based on the novel THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER by Stephen Chbosky)
Starring: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Mae Whitman, Paul Rudd, Nina Dobrev, Johnny Simmons, Kate Walsh, Dylan McDermott, Melanie Lynskey & Joan Cusack
PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER is a novel that became controversial right from the beginning. Though it is frequently included on high school reading lists, it has also appeared many times on the 10 Most Challenged Books list. Issues addressed in Stephen Chbosky’s novel are prevalent in high schools across the country, yet many adults prefer to pretend they don’t exist or just outright ignore them. None of the controversy stopped PERKS from being a hit among the young adult crowd as well as a number of adults. This all led to the extremely rare circumstances of an author taking the reigns as a screenwriter and director behind the adaptation of his own book. Stephen Chbosky knew exactly how he wanted his words to translate onto film and in 2012, the cinematic vision of his novel was brought to the screen. PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER is not only one of the most emotionally realistic coming-of-age stories, but it’s also one of the most important.
Told through letters/memories from our protagonist to an anonymous friend, PERKS is the story of Charlie. He’s an emotionally distressed teenager who’s especially scared about beginning his sophomore year at high school. References are made that Charlie got “really bad” in the past and it becomes clear throughout the film that he is suffering from Depression. Charlie’s first year looks to be boring, bleak and uncomfortable…until he finds a couple of friends. These friends come in the form of Sam and Patrick, a couple of seniors who happen to be siblings. Sam is adventurous, loves old music and opens the doors wide open for Charlie to be himself. Patrick is a proudly gay individual who isn’t afraid of being teased and embraces his uniqueness. Alongside a group of other friends, Charlie, Sam, and Patrick navigate their way through the turbulence of the school year.
Logan Lerman has had his share of good performances (FURY) and not so good performances (GAMER), but really stands out as Charlie. The character is a difficult one to play as you can see the outside appearance that he’s putting on around other people, but also feel the sadness inside of the character. Thus far, the best performance of Logan’s career is right here in PERKS. Coming off the HARRY POTTER series, Emma Watson masterfully blends right in as Sam. Everything about the character is complex and little touches in her performance show that she is coping with problems that are similar to Charlie’s. Ezra Miller is fantastic as Patrick and turns his role into one of the strongest LGBT movie characters that I’ve ever seen. Mae Whitman and Johnny Simmons shine as a Buddhist/goth and a closeted gay jock. As far as the adults go, Dylan McDermott is great as Charlie’s frustrated father, Tom Savini makes a welcomed appearance as a shop teacher, and Paul Rudd is outstanding as an English teacher with a passion for his subject.
WALLFLOWER’s big turn off for some folks would be in the marketing. This film was sold as a sort of dramedy, when it’s mostly a serious drama that happens to have a couple of laughs. These laughs mainly come from some light-hearted bonding between Charlie, Sam, and Patrick. The drama comes with you being placed in Charlie’s shoes throughout the rest of the story. The way in which WALLFLOWER addresses its serious themes and issues (including mental illness, abusive relationships, suicide, drug use, and past trauma), but doesn’t necessarily make them the main focus is beyond admirable. At the core this is the story of three high school friends and it just happens to have real-world problems that can be found in every high school across the country. The conclusion is bittersweet and beautiful, actually bringing some tears out of me.
In my opinion, PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER is one of the most important films that you could show teenagers today. It’s hard-hitting, realistic, emotional, and reminds that everyone has their own set of problems. The last of those is easy to forget when you’re a teenager in high school with homework and dating on your mind. If you’re looking for SIXTEEN CANDLES or THE BREAKFAST CLUB, then feel free to look elsewhere. PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER is depressing, brilliant, and hugely emotional. It’s also far more mature than most teenage-geared movies. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to call PERKS a coming-of-age masterpiece.