I liked the book. I loved the movie. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a rarity, a movie that is actually better than the book upon which it is based. Kudos to first-time director and screenplay author Stephen Chbosky, who also wrote the original book. Teen movies receive scant critical acclaim; that the film was mentioned as a possible (if improbable) candidate for an Adapted Screenplay Academy Awards nomination is indicative of its quality. Since it is, in fact, a teen movie, it wasn’t nominated. But it should have been.
Perks has it all – a great script, amazing acting, wonderful character development, a pulsating soundtrack, and a real locale – Pittsburgh, in all its grainy, gritty, glory. This is not a movie that was shot in an anonymous suburban locale in order to gain favorable tax breaks from a revenue-starved locale.
The movie perfectly captures the joy and heartbreak of adolescence. Charlie (Logan Lerman) the eponymous wallflower, is a high school freshman who suffers from mental health challenges. Having no friends among his peers, he is befriended by a group of Seniors including Sam (Emma Watson), her half brother Patrick (Ezra Miller), and their cohort of friends. These are the kind of high school students who describe themselves as “The Island of Misfit Toys” and regularly attend and act in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. These are the freaks and geeks.
Each of the three main actors does a magnificent job. Charlie is sad and quiet, yet smart and observant. Sam is vibrant and passionate, and Emma Watson has a killer American accent. And Ezra Miller is heartbreaking and incredibly charismatic as Patrick, brave enough to be gay and out in high school.
The film succeeds on every conceivable level. It has it all – humor, joy, sadness, pain, wit, and tremendous tenderness. The handling of mental health challenges is well done, and Joan Cuzack has a brief but memorable role as a stalwart psychiatrist. I am a sucker for both high school and mental health films, so this movie had me at hello. But this film is the real deal. See for yourself.
Rating: **** (out of ****)