The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

12 Feb


Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

People will say that they hated high school. I think they’re only thinking of the bad occurrences (lost opportunities, broken hearts, feeling left out of the crowd, etc.), rather than the warm, nostalgic, refreshing moments that changed their lives forever (friendships, accomplishments, even quirkiness in classrooms). High school may have had its negative moments, but its positive points were always present. It can be weird and crazy, but also warm and funny. That statement alone can be used to describe “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is a true delight and it understands what it was like to be an outsider during high school. People looking back will notice that they all went through the motions of high school—awkwardness, loneliness, confusion, and the unexpected camaraderie that came with—and then they’ll realize that they all felt like outsiders, even the popular crowd. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” doesn’t present these elements as a bad thing. It’s a moving coming-of-age story about such a high school kid who begins his freshman year miserably, but finishes it by embracing who he really is.

Based on a popular young adult novel, the film takes place in the early 1990s as a teenager named Charlie (Logan Lerman) begins his first year of high school. Charlie is a shy, quiet kid who has trouble making friends, and his old friends are too busy with their new crowd to pay attention to him. (And he also has a troubled past, which is revealed later.) The only connection he makes so far is with his English teacher (Paul Rudd).

Soon enough, Charlie meets two seniors—Sam (Emma Watson) and her stepbrother Patrick (Ezra Miller), who aren’t conformists in the slightest and revel in knowing so. When they learn that Charlie doesn’t have any friends, they welcome him into their crowd. They enjoy each other’s company.

For Charlie, this is a way of stepping out of his dork-status and his despair. It’s a despair that runs deeper than one might expect that comes with clues such as his constant writings to a certain “friend” about certain updates, and his late aunt (Melanie Lynskey) who had a certain bond with the boy, and possibly something a little more suspicious (things are left vaguely). His parents (Kate Walsh and Dylan McDermott) are in their own world, and his usually reliable older sister (Nina Dobrev) is in a somewhat odd relationship with an idiot named Ponytail Derek (Nicholas Braun). Bottom line is, this is a kid who needs friends in his life. Who better to be his friends than Sam, friendly and appealing, and Patrick, witty and high-spirited (and openly gay).

Charlie isn’t the only one with problems, of course. Patrick and the football jock Brad (Johnny Simmons) are seeing each other secretly, as Brad isn’t ready to come out of the closet yet. But the tension is getting to be too much for him. And Sam is trying to live down a reputation, which began during her freshman year. She regrets the past, and dates someone else—a nice college guy named Craig (Reece Thompson). Charlie develops a quick crush on Sam, but still supports their friendship. But Sam, not knowing that Charlie is hopelessly in love with her, keeps finding ways for Charlie to like her even more, which makes things very difficult. Life may be sweet, but also very complicated, and it gets even more so when Charlie finds himself in a weird relationship with punk-Buddhist Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman).

If any of this sounds familiar, it should. We’ve not only seen this in many high-school coming-of-age movies, but I think most of us have known what this felt like when we were in high school. We can’t deny it—we have all felt the confusion, the awkwardness, the loneliness, and the unusual developed friendships that come with high school. And this movie knows what high school felt like. What surprised me is how this film separated itself from the “mainstream” aspects by really tapping into its subject matter, as well as developing into a rather dark final act (which I will not give away). The screenplay by Stephen Chbosky (based upon his own novel!) is warmer than I expected it to be. It’s insightful, sincere, and very effective.

What also makes “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” special are the performances. Logan Lerman is likable and effective as Charlie. Emma Watson, in her first attempt to distance herself from the Hermione Granger image that made her noticeable in the first place, does great work as Sam. She has more of a display of range and ability than the “Harry Potter” movies ever permitted her to show. (Both Watson and Lerman share convincing chemistry together.) But the real surprise was Ezra Miller as Patrick. Miller plays the exact opposite of his psychopathic-teenager role in last year’s “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” and he delivers a performance equally strong. Miller is enthusiastic, energetic, likable, credible, and engaging.

If you feel alone, then remember that good things can happen in ways you don’t expect them to. That’s the overall moral, you could say, for “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” With a smart script, good acting, and an overall feel for what it’s like to be a high school outcast, this movie is observant, fun, amusing, sweet, sad, nostalgic, and very effective.

One Response to “The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)”


  1. Prepping for My Top 20 Films of the 2010s | Smith's Verdict - November 26, 2019

    […] High School Dramedy—“The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” “Eighth Grade,” “Booksmart,” […]

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