As I make my way over to the box office and reluctantly fork over a few bills in exchange for a ticket stub, I realize that the fact that this independent film is directed by the bestselling novel’s author, Stephen Chbosky himself, does little to ease my distress: the stub I hold in my hand could soon very well be evidence of yet another failed book-to-movie adaptation.
I’ve envisioned every single scene in my head, and if I detect even the slightest change in dialogue or the absence of just one minor character, I will demand a refund. The screen darkens completely. The only telltale signs that the movie has begun derive from the taps and dings of a typewriter in use, and already my copy of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is starting to feel lighter in my bag.
“Perks” is based off the 1999 modern coming-of-age novel centered on its narrator and protagonist, an introvert named Charlie (Logan Lerman). Like book-Charlie, movie-Charlie tells his story in the form of letters addressed to an unidentified recipient who he simply refers to as “Friend.” The audience is invited to tag along with the wallflower as he attempts to survive freshman year, falls in love and is exposed to drugs, all while battling with serious personal issues that have landed him in the hospital prior to his first year of high school.
One of the chief factors that gives the film both credibility and depth is its timing. Chbosky manages to fit an entire school year into a 100-minute film without deleting important scenes or making it feel rushed. Right from the opening credits, “Perks” is in-step with Charlie as he wanders through adolescence and observes from afar. The film also conveys Charlie’s personal issues beautifully with short but powerful flashback scenes that are carefully placed throughout the movie so as to not give too much away. Each meaningful gesture that Charlie experiences in the present triggers a piece of a broken memory from the past until all the pieces fit together for a startling conclusion.
Going into the movie, I must confess I had low expectations of Lerman’s performance, as he had previously disappointed me with his turn as Percy Jackson in “Percy Jackson and The Olympians: The Lightning Thief.” But to say that Lerman slips easily into the skin of Charlie is an understatement. Lerman is Charlie in every way, from his inability to make direct eye contact with anyone to his meek facial expressions to his cautious walk. And he hasn’t even opened his mouth to speak yet. As if Charlie’s lines aren’t already laced with incredible insight, Lerman speaks with a voice so pure and with eyes so observant that the best parts of the movie are spent waiting anxiously for his occasional remark to offset the casual chatter of his friends (just hearing him utter the iconic words “I feel infinite” in the trailer is enough to win you over).
But just as Sam and Patrick, the two seniors who take Charlie under their wing, refuse to be overshadowed in the novel, so Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller) tread just behind Charlie in the film. Watson proves her critics wrong with an American accent that’s not awkward or forced at all, and with the trace of a laugh dancing on her lips, she makes more than just Charlie fall in love with her “free bird” attitude. Miller gives a flamboyant spin on Patrick with dramatic gestures and hilarious one-liners like “Well, that’s fucked up,” but he’s more than just comedic relief. In scenes where Patrick struggles with a secret, Miller manages to change his tone from sarcastic to just plain bitter in an instant.
Supporting characters like the opinionated “Buddhist feminist” Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman) and Charlie’s first real “friend,” English teacher Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd), also leave lasting impressions, although Charlie’s moving relationship with his teacher isn’t explored in the film as much as it should have been.
The soundtrack is golden and nostalgic of the ’90s with soft rock ‘n’ roll and pop hits by bands like The Smiths and Dexys Midnight Runners. Fans of the novel will appreciate the memorable tunnel scene as well as Charlie, Patrick and Sam’s wonderfully carefree homecoming dance clip.
Teen angst doesn’t seem the right theme for a film as heartbreaking as “Perks.” Whether it be making friends, finding love or taking the journey towards self-discovery, this movie is one that many people can relate to. It’s also one that does the original work justice.
Final Rating: 5/5