Part of me adored the new coming-of-age drama “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” and part of me couldn’t muster up the energy to care about anyone or anything in the entire movie.
I’m still not entirely sure if my negative takeaway is my fault or the movie’s, but the story of an awkward teenager fostering friendships with fellow outsiders and holding fast to the promise of a better and brighter world outside the walls of high school has been done to death.
“Perks” certainly doesn’t have anything new or insightful to add to the tales of hipster angst that have gone before it.
That said, these movies will always resonate with me because I remember all too well what it was like to be said awkward teenager falling in love for the first time with a beguiling alt-girl who is tough on the outside and wounded on the inside.
I recall discovering interesting music and the thrill of having my world opened up by classic literature. I also remember all the pain and insecurities that came along with it.
“Perks” proudly features all of the above and still, even with the deck stacked against me, I failed to fully connect with this movie.
I think part of the problem lies with our likable lead, Charlie, played by Logan Lerman (best known for the title role in “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief”).
Charlie is a high school freshman and he has issues. Man does he have issues. His issues have issues. In spite of all this, his family life is stable and blandly supportive.
His older sister, Candace (Nina Dobrev), is a senior who barely acknowledges his existence, and his parents, as is typical in movies like this, are mostly-absent placeholders. In fact, they don’t even get names; they are simply billed as Mother (Kate Walsh) and Father (Dylan McDermott).
The problem with Charlie is that it’s not enough that he simply feels alienated and confused. Unlike the 97.3 percent of the teenage population who feel this way as part of their normal state of being, Charlie is shy and withdrawn thanks to an almost laughable amount of baggage that could fill three full hours of “Dr. Phil.”
High school is mostly hell for Charlie, although he does find some rays of hope, like his English teacher, Mr. Anderson (a quality cameo by Paul Rudd).
His big breakthrough comes when he meets senior step-siblings, Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson). These elder social pariahs see a kindred spirit in Charlie and take him under their wings and introduce him to their group of friends.
They all bond over David Bowie B-sides and midnight screenings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Of course, these new friends have their own problems and Charlie gets sucked into their drama, which mostly surrounds Patrick’s homosexuality and Sam’s bad taste in guys.
The cast is fairly solid throughout. Lerman does a good job of carrying the movie, although his portrayal of Charlie’s brokenness seems a little too polished. Miller is probably the breakout star from this film, following up his supremely twisted performance as the titular sociopath in “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” Both roles demanded big, over-the-top performances, so it will be interesting to see if Miller can tone it down going forward.
Watson has garnered the most attention in this film for her first major post-Hermione-Granger performance. After growing up on the soundstages of the “Harry Potter” films, she proves she has the chops to have a real career if she wants it. She has the ability to make the audience fall in love with her right along with Charlie.
“Perks” was written and directed by Stephen Chbosky who also wrote the novel on which the movie was based. On one hand, I admire the degree of creative control Chbosky had over his work, but part of me also wonders if the movie might have benefited from a fresh pair of eyes because there are some long stretches where it feels pretty self-reverential.
There’s a lot to like about “Perks,” but I just couldn’t shake the feeling that much like its main character, this movie is little more than an empty shell.
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is rated PG-13 on appeal for mature thematic material, drug and alcohol use, sexual content including references, and a fight –all involving teens.