Film Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Charlie & the Wallflowers

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is writer/director Stephen Chbosky’s film adaptation of his semi-autobiographical 1999 novel. Apparently set in 1991, though boasting a 1980s look, the film centres on Charlie (Logan Lerman), an awkward, withdrawn student in his first year of high school. His social life is ignited when he meets siblings Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller), who are in their final year of school, and who introduce him to a world of fun-loving social misfits. There is an instant connection between the three, but as the they grow closer, their repressed personal problems begin to emerge and threaten their friendship.

The film works because of the friendship between the three characters, which is both convincing and affecting. Each character is skilfully drawn, and the three actors embrace their roles, inhabiting them with ease. Lerman is especially good in his leading role, playing Charlie’s shy awkwardness without ever feeling forced. The characters of Sam and Patrick are appropriately magnetic; it is easy to see why Charlie is drawn to them. Elsewhere, the script is curiously uneven, combining scenes that feel overly familiar with scenes that feel dynamic and fresh.

Emma Watson, now available in soft-focus

Emma Watson, now available in soft-focus

Chbosky elicits good performances from his actors, though his visual approach is less dynamic. Andrew Dunn’s cinematography is deliberately hazy, seemingly intended to reflect the characters or the time period (or perhaps their relationship to their environment). Some have found this approach successfully immersive; I found it to be distracting, occasionally getting the sense that I was watching a commercial. The script’s evocation of 80s/90s nostalgia treads a fine line between endearing and cloying, from its delight in cassette mix-tapes to a scene in which the characters hear David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ for the first time (though it’s hard to believe that Sam and Patrick, hipsters that they are, have never heard the song before).

One of the script’s limitations is its unmistakably novelistic feel (hardly a surprise, given its origins). There are several passages of voice-over that sound as if they have been lifted from the page, and the plot structure is quite episodic. Neither of these is a huge problem (the voice-over is explained as being letters that Charlie is writing to an unseen friend), but they feel more televisual than cinematic. Having said that, the majority of the scenes work very well as individual pieces; it is only when taken as a whole that the lack of a strong narrative becomes apparent.

One of the less successful script moments is a major revelation towards the end (as apparently happens in the novel), when it feels like the credits are about to roll. The script enters an unexpected additional act, and while the scenes themselves are quite effective, it feels structurally awkward.

Lerman, Miller and Watson

Lerman, Miller and Watson

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an engaging but uneven film that ultimately works because it makes you care about its protagonists. Sure, there are weaknesses in the script and the visual approach, but when you enjoy spending time with the characters, such things hardly matter.

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  1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is wonderful. « nediunedited - January 10, 2013

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