Review originally published September 8, 2012 as part of Film.com's coverage of the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival.
"The Perks of Being a Wallflower" is a lovely film, showing off the dynamic talents of Ezra Miller, Emma Watson and Logan Lerman, proving once and for all that writers can adapt and direct their own material (as Stephen Chbosky does here) without becoming overly precious. You may not have attended this high school -- hell, you may not have even heard of a place like this -- but the human condition pondered within is certainly one that audience members will be able to relate to.
That gushing pronouncement firmly in place, it should be admitted that the plot devices employed, a kid having a tough time in high school while bullies run rampant, are nothing special. What is special is the level of specificity attempted, the characters explored and the special care paid the diverse themes of the film. Why can't we save anyone, and why do people choose to love those who are so obviously bad for them? If you're looking for a film completely unafraid to tackle weighty concerns, but with a wink and an L7 song, look no further. You've found your perfect match.
"The Perks of Being a Wallflower" starts off with Charlie (Logan Lerman) looking mournfully out upon the world. He's headed to 9th grade, painfully underwhelmed by the prospect. On his first day of class, he manages to impress only his English teacher (played by Paul Rudd). He eats alone, he writes weird letters to an anonymous pen pal, he prays for a social life of any kind. Finally, sweet relief, he's befriended by cool (or at least counter-culture) upperclassmen. Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller) flow into Charlie's life as a healing grace, making everything funnier, better and more tolerable for the troubled young man.
This is the high school experience writ comical, with mix tapes exchanged, communications severely boggled, all while a certain darkness looms right underneath the proceedings. Everyone attempts to "save" everyone, and everyone does, right up until they don't, because they're all incapable teenagers without the requisite repetitions a hard-earned wisdom requires. People use drugs, drink, get beaten up -- anything to feel something and nothing about the wave of newly-minted hormones convulsively flowing through their bodies. Which leads us nicely to sex, and "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" captures this phenomenon with all the tenderness and horror that exemplifies youthful indiscretions.
During this delicate balance of divine tragedy, it's easy to elect an MVP in the form of Patrick (Ezra Miller). He was simply overwhelming in "We Need to Talk About Kevin," and he's the singular reason as well that "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" soars above its lesser teen drama competition. His take on Patrick, a wounded and grandiose high school senior, profoundly explores the cross everyone takes up at some point in their life. This Ezra Miller fellow is one to keep an eye firmly upon, little golden men may be aligning with his future acting plans. Emma Watson is tremendous as well, so too is Logan Lerman, but without the character of Patrick, he who holds the reigns on most of the film's tension, the film wouldn't have worked as beautifully.
Part "Garden State," part "Wonderboys," and with a smidgeon of "American Beauty" thrown in for good measure, "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" is a must-see for fans of the coming-of-age drama. At its worse, it leans toward a maudlin overly-dramatic high school mentality, but that's around 100 seconds of a 102 minute film, nothing too serious. At it's best, it is indeed very, very good, an artful film in the truest sense of the word, holding a mirror up to your memories, even if they never existed there at all.