Starting high school can be tough for anyone, but Charlie (Logan Lerman) has more on his plate than most. He’s recently out of the hospital after suffering from mental health problems, he’s still reeling from his best friend’s suicide and when he turns up at school, even the few people he does know ignore him.
Despite being quiet and generally keeping to himself, he manages to befriend seniors Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson), who introduce him to their group of friends. Charlie starts to open up, has his first relationship and begins to fall for Sam, allowing him to put his issues to one side. However as teen traumas inevitably arise and his friends get closer to leaving school, he faces losing the support network he’s built and may have to actually deal with his problems.
Often when writers attempt to take their own books to the screen, the results are underwhelming, but Stephen Chbosky has managed to turn his novel into a sweet, involving and at times melancholic movie that really pulls you into the lives of its protagonist. Quite often teen films never really manage to get to the heart of the drama of that time of life, and how new experiences, hormones and confusion come together to create a storm of highs and lows, but Perks does. Most people won’t have had quite as tough a time as Charlie, but they’ll still empathise with his situation and the depression he suffers from.
There are a few small issues with the structure, such as the fact that initially Charlie’s mental health problems are left a bit unclear. There are reasons for that that are revealed towards the end, but it could have done with being slightly less obtuse early on, as it initially feels like it’s shying away from the harsher realities. Likewise the death of Charlie’s friend is thrown in and then largely ignored, which doesn’t quite work. However these are minor issues amongst a film that does so much right. It really understands the way many teens – particularly the misfit ones – work, such as the stupid things they do without thinking, as well as the bravado, insecurity and sense of being lost that marks many young adult’s lives.
Perks also does well dealing with the issues of teen sexuality. Charlie’s mate Patrick is gay and proud, but he’s in a relationship with a heavily closeted jock. Patrick has a supportive network around him, but has to deal with the fact that his boyfriend, Brad, does not. Many films would have simply turned Brad into a cruel ass who wants guys in private but calls them ‘fag’ in public. However Perks gives a powerful twist to that, showing that there are often strong reasons why someone might stay in the closet and lash out if they think their secret is going to be exposed. The film certainly doesn’t excuse it, but it doesn’t want to go for easy answers.
All this is helped by strong performances from the leads, with Ezra Miller going livewire as Patrick, Emma Watson subtle and sincere as Sam and Logan Lerman bringing real heart to his conflicted character, who’s prone to blackouts at moments of extreme emotion.
The Perks Of Being A Wallflower is one of those rare teen movies that struck home for me and brought back memories of my own youth (which thankfully wasn’t quite like Charlie’s, but still had his own moments of drama). It really captures the feeling of being slightly out of step with the rest of the world and reaching out to others who you know feel the same. Admittedly I couldn’t help but feel that most real bands of misfits wouldn’t be this good looking, but it still works.
Overall Verdict: A heartfelt look at teen life that delves further and into darker areas than most, although always into areas that many young people will have to face – whether its mental health problems, their sexuality, traumas of the past or the issues of love. It’s sincere, charming and often surprisingly moving.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac