The Perks of Being a Wallflower

(2012)
I probably dropped this in my Netflix queue because of Paul Rudd’s participation, even though he’s not in it very much. Perks centers around Charlie (Logan Lerman), a freshman outcast who hated middle school and has low expectations of his impending high school experience. Initially reality conforms to his fears, but he is adopted early in the school year by a senior named Patrick (Ezra Miller), an extrovert, and his sister Sam (Emma Watson), who take him under their wings and save him from isolation. He fits easily into their orbit, and the three become fast friends, even though they are seniors and he’s a freshman. Charlie falls for Sam, which of course leads to some complications later in the second act, but the film is more interested in the overall experience of discovering who you are as an emerging young adult than it is in centering on a romance. There’s a fair amount of baggage – Charlie’s old best friend committed suicide, there are a few cases of child molestation, Patrick’s partner is very much in the closet and fears being discovered -- and so on. There’s an undercurrent of angst, and yet while the film explores it, it smartly avoids wallowing in it; for every dark moment we’re shown, there’s a counterpart to it that’s either uplifting or deftly funny (Charlie shovels snow in a perfect circle around where he’s standing when he gets high at a party, for example). It’s rare that a teen film marries these d isparate elements together so seamlessly; both are major parts of the teen experience, and yet so often films veer in one direction or the other (or remain upbeat until The Bad Event two-thirds of the way through). What makes the movie stand out is the uniformly excellent performances turned in by the leads. Lerman, whom I’ve been less then impressed with pretty much everywhere else I’ve seen him, displays a talent I would never have guessed at here. He’s vulnerable and accessible as Charlie, but most importantly, he’s authentic; you believe in his character at once, and Charlie is easy to identify with and rally behind. Ezra Miller comes very close to stealing the show as the flamboyant Patrick; he’s exactly the antidote to what’s weighing Charlie down, and he lifts the movie and never lets it falter. He’s the friend every young kid wants in high school, and he’s terrific here. Emma Watson, whom the whole world knows as Hermione Granger, shows that she has a lot more to offer; she’s simply perfect here as an emotional midpoint between Charlie’s vulnerability and Patrick’s confidence, shifting from one state to another in a seemingly effortless performance. Charlie’s lack of self-esteem prevents him from declaring his interest in her, but it’s obvious why he falls so hard for her; Watson here captures the mystique of that girl you always loved in high school but were always far too afraid to tell about it. The movie waxes a bit emo, yes, but the performances are so strong that’s a relatively minor sin, and there are some truly memorable and powerful moments that impressed me deeply (one scene where the trio are cruising through a tunnel,

reveling in the simple freedom of being away from your parents in your teen years, leaps off the screen); had I seen this movie when I was a teenager, it would have left an indelible mark. As it is I was quite taken with it; a rare teen movie that pretty much gets it right, reaching its audience regardless of age. November 3, 2013

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