Football games and awkward dances, late-night gabfests at the local diner and tentative first kisses – they’re all there over the course of a school year in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”
This coming-of-age drama, based on the best-selling young adult novel of the same name, may sound like total formula, right down to the rebellious thrill of experimenting with drugs and alcohol and the liberation of experiencing “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” But there’s also a darkness that follows its main character, even at his happiest, which keeps the film from turning completely safe and self-satisfied.
“Perks” features a well-chosen cast, an eclectic music mix (David Bowie, New Order, Air Supply) and some moments of uncomfortable honesty as well as dreamlike wonder. And it’s anchored by strong performances on two ends of the acting spectrum: from Logan Lerman as Charlie, the first-year high school student of the film’s title whose reserved nature can’t hide his obvious intelligence and sweetness, and from Ezra Miller in a showy turn as Patrick, the quick-witted and gay senior-class clown who takes Charlie under his wing.
The young woman who completes their little triangle of blissful misfits is the perky but damaged Sam, played by “Harry Potter” star Emma Watson (without a trace of a British accent). Also a senior, Sam is Patrick’s stepsister and Charlie’s first serious crush. Maybe they invite Charlie into their inner sanctum a bit too quickly, but there’s an irreverent, playful energy to their antics and a subversive sense of humor that makes you not mind so much.
Directed and written by “Perks” novelist Stephen Chbosky, the film follows these characters and their friends through all the rituals of a school year in suburban Pittsburgh. He features heavy use of voiceover early on, as Charlie narrates the letters he writes to a mysterious, unseen recipient.
The film takes place in a hazy sort of late-’80s, early-’90s time frame – no one has a cellphone, and mix tapes are a crucial medium for expressing teen angst – which adds to its feeling of universality. The melancholy “Asleep” by The Smiths appears so prominently, it’s practically a character itself.
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” may not do anything groundbreaking, but it tells a familiar story in small, thoughtful ways.
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