Stephen Chbosky’s film adaptation of his own best-selling young adult novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, will seem familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of recent teen-angst films. Only the latest in a long line of movies that owe more than a little to J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, what Wallflower lacks in surface originality it makes up for with strong performances from the talented cast.
High school freshman Charlie (Percy Jackson‘s Logan Lerman) is a young teen coming of age in Pittsburgh during the early 1990s. He’s slowly starting to emerge from a depression brought on by the tragic deaths of two important figures in his life, his Aunt Helen, shown in flashbacks, and his best friend who committed suicide.
The semester seems to promise that Charlie will continue to see his fair share of misery, until a pair of half-sibling seniors take him under their wing. Patrick (We Need to Talk About Kevin‘s Ezra Miller), a flamboyant young man attempting to live openly as a homosexual in a less than nurturing environment, and Sam (the Harry Potter franchise’s Emma Watson), a pixie-haired bohemian with a troubled past, take pity on Charlie, giving him the attention and support that he so desperately needs.
Not surprisingly, ’90s-era teen adventures abound: midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, pot brownies, dancing to “Come on Eileen.” Perhaps the most telling bit of script takes place when Patrick announces to the world, “It’s official, my life is now an after-school special.”
Because that is what the film often steers too close to. The original novel has been held up over time as a wonderful tome for young adults to lean on during tough times in their lives. It’s helped many teens realize that they are not the first to go through a difficult period of adjustment entering high school. Unfortunately, once those words are brought to the screen we realize how trite much of it comes across.
Sam is seemingly there for no other reason than to give Charlie an unavailable object of puppy love to covet, while also introducing him to the concept of the good girl desiring the bad boy. Patrick’s outspoken character is at times the story’s version of the “gay best friend” archetype that has become a staple of teen dramas. While it’s clear that the trio of friends are the “freaks and geeks” of their high school, the film gives no clear indication of what led the siblings toward this life, other than it is convenient for the story being told.
When Chbosky places the action in the middle of the situations the three high-schoolers find themselves in, the film has a cloying charm about it. It is clear that the director has a love for the characters shown on screen, but the finished product is proof that love doesn’t trump talent. Despite the best efforts given by the headlining trio of performers, Chbosky just isn’t up to the task of bringing his own story to the screen in a convincing way.