The Perks Of Being A Wallflower is just lovely, the most successful and surprising re-invention of the American high school movie I’ve seen since Donnie Darko. It’s told from the point of view of the troubled Charlie (a brilliant and subtle performance from the appealingly-named Logan Lerman), who’s starting at a new school after a period of forced withdrawal following a family tragedy, and while the themes of not-necessarily-requited love and the struggle to find ease within oneself are fairly familiar they’re handled here with rare sensitivity and effectiveness.
Written and directed by Stephen Chbosky (actually an adaptation of Chbosky’s own 1999 novel of the same name), Perks includes all the elements common to this kind of set-up (a shy but bright new-comer, a quirky group of outsider students, a sympathetic English teacher mentor, a stoner party, some bullying and family conflict) but somehow manages to make every significant encounter, confrontation and emotional turning-point ring true in a way that that had me totally unravelled. It’s probably to do with the careful understated manner that Chbosky draws his characters and has them interact – nothing here seems forced or overdone, and for once everyone on screen seems utterly believable and convincingly nuanced in their relationships with the world. Even Ezra Miller’s flamboyant and attention-grabbing Patrick, who comes across as a camp caricature to start with, is eventually shown to be generous of spirit and capable of getting hurt as badly as anyone else in the throes of post-adolescent self-discovery (a far cry from his satanic turn in We Need To Talk About Kevin). Emma Watson is pretty good too, with her new post-Harry Potter hairstyle and a passable American accent, as the close friend that Charlie finds himself forming what may be an inappropriate attachment to. I’m not too sure exactly what period the film is set in – the presence of mix tapes as an important signifier of personality suggests the 80s, but one or two songs on the soundtrack indicate that it’s probably a few years into the following decade – but it doesn’t really matter as its appeal is pretty universal. This is both a smart and in places a powerfully affecting film which captures the pain and joy of being a teenager without resorting to shock tactics or melodramatic plot twists. Go see it, even if you can’t stand The Smiths.