The trials and tribulations of high school are something that pretty much everyone can identify with. Whether you were (still are?) one of the geeks, captain of the football team or always the lead in the school productions, high school has plenty to challenge and test you. There have been myriad films exploring this and at first glance The Perks of Being a Wallflower doesn’t seem like anything we haven’t seen a number of times before. However, there is more to the film that meets the eye and some key central performances ensure it isn’t your average, run of the mill high school flick.
Charlie (Logan Lerman) is just starting high school and has a hard time settling in. He struggles to fit in and doesn’t really have a strong identity – he’s a wallflower. That is until he joins up with two older students, Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller), who take him under their wing and expose him to a life of fun, frivolity and friendship. However, a dark secret from Charlie’s past threatens to bubble to the surface at any moment.
One of the triumphs of the film is that it has something that almost anyone can identify with, particularly if you are under the age of, say, 30. even then, there are still likely plenty of moments that will jog memories back to your own time at school. This is helped by the unidentified time period which, although is somewhere in the early 1990s, does well to create a setting that lends itself to a much broader era. Virtually every high school demographic is covered in some form, allowing a different people to get different things from the film when they watch it. However, the film is mostly geared towards those who had a hard time fitting in and didn’t find that time in their life particularly easy. If that sounds like you for whatever reason then there is plenty to associate with.
Perks is full of heart and takes you through the full spectrum of emotions across a number of different characters. Happiness, despair, confusion, jealousy: they’re all there and more besides, perfectly encapsulating the various emotions those of high school age go through. However, at times it does feel a little schmaltzy and saccharine, although this, in part, does come from the transition from book to screen. Elements of the book that felt empowering and uplifting do come across as corny in places, although that is purely subjective and others may feel they hit home as intended.
When a popular book gets adapted for the screen, there are always an army of dissenters who call for blood over how much the film has changed compared to the source material. Well perhaps the best way to avoid that is for the book’s author to pen the screenplay himself, and that’s precisely what Stephen Chbosky did with Perks. It sticks about as faithfully as one could hope to the storyline of the book; all omissions are ones that in no way hurt the story and are completely understandable. Charlie’s home life probably takes the biggest hit in terms of cut content but if something had to go then it’s probably a fair decision.
The three leads in the film all portray their characters superbly, with Logan Lerman and Ezra Miller in particular turning in superb performances as Charlie and Patrick respectively. Miller’s flamboyance and exuberance is a world apart from 2011’s We Need to Talk About Kevin showing that he has some serious acting chops for one still so young. Emma Watson, in her first lead role since Potter, can be a little hit and miss at times, particularly to start with although she grows into the character as the film progresses. Some may find it a little farfetched to imagine such attractive leads as social outcasts but that’s mere finickiness in otherwise impressive scripting and casting.
Whilst not likely to set the world on fire in terms of high school drama films, there is a lot to like about Perks. It feels very much like an indie movie through most of it, so don’t expect any Hollywood gloss. The superb soundtrack featuring The Smiths, David Bowie, Sonic Youth, among others, is a high point, and the dark undercurrent it exudes also helps steer it away from others in its genre and makes for a genuinely surprising ending. It’s presented slightly differently in the film compared to the book, but it still packs a punch and effectively rounds off a film that succeeds in being anything but a wallflower.