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Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

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It is very rare for a novelist to pen and direct a feature based on his own work, but that is exactly what happened in the case of Stephen Chbosky and his critically-acclaimed teen novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower. This funny and heartfelt drama about dealing with loss, trauma, and change is arguably one of the best teen movies in recent years. So, those of you who enjoyed Jason Reitman’s iconic teen drama Juno or John Hughes’ classic The Breakfast Club will feel right at home with The Perks of Being a Wallflower, even in spite of its numerous faults — the most prominent of which is a slightly disjointed plot.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower follows the story of the introverted, but highly observant teen named Charlie (Logan Lerman) during his first year of high school. At the beginning of the movie he is quiet, shy, and unpopular — a wallflower — but when he befriends the popular senior-year stepsiblings Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller), he begins to change for the better.

In many ways, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is very similar to films like The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles. Once again, an introvert is forced to become more open — for his own good — through experiencing things like love, sex, and drugs for the first time. The movie does not really stray from well-established teen movie tropes and themes like social awkwardness and eventual loss of innocence.

However, familiarity does not harm The Perks of Being a Wallflower in the slightest — mostly due to the sincerity of its narrative, which feels very autobiographical in nature, and superb performances from the movie’s young cast members. Lerman, Watson, and Miller imbue their characters with so much passion, angst, and vulnerability, that it is difficult to believe they are acting. There are no stereotypical jocks, preps, or nerds in this movie — just real people with their own fears, dreams, and hopes. It is rare for young actors to rival their older, more experienced counterparts, but those three leads pull it off effortlessly.

Yet in spite of its incredible sincerity, the narrative suffers from feeling a little disjointed. For instance, at the beginning, the film emphasizes the suicide of Charlie’s best friend Michael, but it never elaborates on how exactly this traumatic event affected him — not until the latter half of the movie. It is only after we are introduced to all of the movie’s major players that we find out that Charlie sees “images” in his head due to his feelings of guilt over the deaths of Michael and his Aunt Helen.

Somehow this entire subplot feels a little tacked-on — as if Chbosky thought the movie was not dramatic enough. The subplot actually worked much better in the novel because the entire narrative was told through Charlie’s letters to his seemingly imaginary friend. In this case, the whole story could be interpreted as taking place inside of Charlie’s head. The movie does utilize Charlie’s letters to narrate the plot and to reveal parts of his personality, but not nearly to the same extent as in the novel. There is also no indication that the movie is some kind of prolonged dream sequence (though it does have plenty of drug-induced fantasies and flashbacks), which is why his later-revealed “insanity” feels slightly out-of-place.

In spite of this tiny flaw, the movie is still well worth watching, especially for those who have read the book. It is indeed one of the most faithful and honest adaptations ever made.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is now playing in select theaters. There is a chance of a wider release, but no guarantees, so catch this gem of a movie before it is gone.

Grade: A-

By: Taras Trofimov