On the surface “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” seems like warmed over John Hughes, another story about square pegs trying to fit in round holes. Based on a popular junior adult novel, it uses one of the building blocks of teen drama—the friendless teen trying to navigate high school in his freshman year—as a starting place but layers in equal amounts of teen angst and exuberance before the final class bell rings.
The wallflower of the title is Charlie (Logan Lerman), a troubled boy entering the first year of high school. Shunned by the cool kids he attaches himself to Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller), two free spirited seniors who take him under their wing. Patrick is a flamboyant gay teen, prone to grand pronouncements and dressing up like “The Rocky Horror Picture Show’s” Fran ‘N Furter. Sam is a damaged but sweet girl with a past. Along with a gaggle of misfit friends like Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman), the rich kid whop passes herself off as a punk rock Buddhist, Sam and Patrick introduce Charlie to his first party (“This is what fun looks like!”), his first kiss and first love. Along with all these firsts comes confusion, which, for Charlie, isn’t a first.
Director Stephen Chbosky has done a great job of portraying the time in a teen’s life when making a mixed tape for a girl spoke louder than words. It’s hard to know when the film is supposed to be set—the music ranges from late seventies to late eighties, played on vinyl, cassettes and CDs—but the mix of music establishes a timeless feel for the film, suggesting that these songs are simply the sound of teen angst, which doesn’t change, no matter the time or place.
The movie benefits greatly from a skilled cast of young people. Lerman, probably best known as D’Artagnan in the recent “Three Musketeers” reboot, brings a sweet befuddlement to the role that masks the hurt that has shaped his young life. Watson leaves Hermione at home to play Sam, a wise-beyond-her years girl who makes simple mistakes. The showiest role belongs to Miller who has cornered the market on playing troubled teens after his memorable performance in last year’s “The Trouble with Kevin.” He is flamboyant without being campy, tough and frail simultaneously.
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” has more substance than most movies based on young adult novels, and is an affecting story of friendship, loss and redemption. Also, any movie that uses David Bowie’s “Heroes” as a recurring theme can’t be all bad.