THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER. Starring: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Paul Rudd, Mae Whitman, Erin Wilhelmi, and Melanie Lynskey. Directed by Stephen Chbosky. Rated M (Mature themes, drug use, sexual references and coarse language). 102 min.
This American drama is an adaptation of a 1999 novel of the same name by Stephen Chbosky, the director of the movie. His novel and the film tell a rite-of-passage story set in an affluent suburb of Pittsburgh in the 1990s.
Charlie (Logan Lerman) is a shy, intelligent 15-year old from a middle-class family. He is a “wallflower” with a tortured past, and he enrols as a freshman at a local high school. He starts school feeling fearful and nervous, and doesn’t tell anyone about how anxious he is “trying not to be a loser”. Charlie needs “to turn things around”, but his only friend on the first day is his English Teacher (Paul Rudd), who realises Charlie is special.
Isolated by those around him, Charlie is befriended by two seniors, Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller), her gay stepbrother. The two of them set out to help Charlie cope, and they accept him into their eccentric circle, “The Island of Misfit Toys”, which includes Sam, Patrick and two other girls, Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman), and Alice (Erin Wilhelmi), one of whom mistakenly believes Charlie likes her. Charlie, however, has attached himself emotionally to Sam. The story that unfolds is a coming-of-age one about the torturous passage of three adolescents (Charlie, Sam, and Patrick) from insecurity to independence. For Charlie, it is also finding life out of the hell of sexual abuse.
Charlie is swept along by Sam and Patrick, but he is weighed down by his recollections of his best friend’s recent suicide, and of being sexually abused by his Aunt Helen (Melanie Lynskey), who has died. Themes of mental illness, sexual abuse, homosexuality, and drug and alcohol dependence provide a heavy dramatic background to a very compelling movie, which also has some surprisingly light touches.
The three main characters give acting performances that are terrific, and they all deliver emotionally real performances. Despite his friends’ efforts, Charlie cannot recover from his traumatic experiences with his Aunt, and Logan Lerman captures Charlie’s conflicts unerringly. His friendship with both Sam and Patrick is shown movingly to be more painful at times than the loneliness he is trying to leave behind. Ezra Miller brings a surprising tenderness to the role of Patrick, and Emma Watson is very convincing as Sam.
The movie is a dramatic story of adolescents’ fear and hope and the film carries the significant messages that, despite our past, we are able to choose where we go from now, and that true friendships are needed and important. The movie is honest, warm and affectionate in the way it deals with adolescent conflict issues. This is a smartly observed film about troubled years in young peoples’ lives, and it is a moving study of three adolescents’ search for freedom, and a harrowing film about how difficult it to recover from sexual abuse. Chbosky’s style of direction is a sure one. He understands the harsh realities of sexual confusion, experimentation with drugs, and mental illness, and he recognises the emotional turmoil that they can create.
The film exposes the viewer to a wide range of youthful immoral behaviour, and it has a very unfortunate scene where there is a direct take from a communion host to a drug patch. However, it is a poignant film about the emotional conflicts that adolescents do experience, and it captures intelligently the highs and lows of teenage life. There is an authenticity about Chbosky’s direction in this film that rings decidedly true.
Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Out 29th November, 2012.