The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
For many of us, entering a new setting, such as our freshman year of high school, is a monumental occasion. That is more true when you have your own emotional baggage to carry with you.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower follows Charlie (Logan Lerman) as he enters high school as a freshman. His socially awkward tendency quickly gets him labeled a pariah in his school’s social scene until he gets taken under the wing of Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson). Along the way, Charlie finds himself on an emotional roller coaster, partly as a result of emotional trauma he suffered as a child.
What does this emotional roller coaster amount to? Not a damn thing. Not very far into the movie, we find Charlie falling in love with Sam and finding out that Patrick is actually gay. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, based on the novel of the same name by Stephen Chbosky (who also directed the film), was supposed to be a coming-of-age story about a teenager who was wounded by previous life experiences.
I went to see this movie with friends, and one of the guys I went to see the movie with described the formulation of Charlie’s experience for the movie’s first act perfectly. It seemed like he was written by someone who actually was fairly popular in high school, and thus was very unfamiliar with the territory his own character was supposed to occupy. Many of the situations Charlie goes through seem almost unrealistically tragic, and thus felt forced in to elicit an emotional response from the audience. We see him enter high school and get bullied for absolutely no reason by people who don’t know him at all. The issue of bullying in high school was handled more realistically in the cheesy (and highly unrealistic) J-drama You’re Under Arrest! of all places. Conversely, I was admittedly surprised that Patrick and his group of friends accepted Charlie as one of them. Meanwhile, Charlie befriends an English teacher who bears no consequence to the movie’s plot whatsoever.
The movie also tries to raise important social issues. It takes place in the 1990s. Early on, we learn that Charlie’s childhood friend had committed suicide. Later on, he (a Roman Catholic) starts dating Mary Elizabeth, a Buddhist. How do either of these subplots affect that outcome of the movie? Not at all. The suicide was treated in a similar manner to Collette’s breast cancer in The Room (2003) in that it is mentioned once, only to never be brought up ever again in the movie. Similarly, I thought there would have been some sort of friction between Charlie’s and Mary Elizabeth’s families over the religious differences. We see Charlie take part in Catholic masses and Mary Elizabeth is repeatedly identified as a Buddhist. However, their religions (and ultimately Mary Elizabeth herself) do nothing to affect the progression of the plot one way or another.
Ultimately, Charlie proved to simply not be a particularly interesting character until about halfway into the movie. I found my attention drawn to the characters we are supposed to be seeing through his eyes. Patrick was by and far the most fascinating character in the film. He was funny. He had legitimate obstacles between himself and happiness. He was also the most well-acted character in the film. Logan Lerman did a great job as Charlie too, but Charlie as a character just wasn’t very memorable.
Of course, I’m sure many people ultimately came out to see The Perks of Being a Wallflower to see Emma Watson. I will say that Watson’s performance was the weakest one in the movie, and that was largely because I noticed how she wasn’t completely successful in masking her native Oxford accent into an American one. It becomes problematic when she shares the screen with American actors who provide native American accents with which one can compare Watson’s.
Overall, The Perks of Being a Wallflower didn’t really take off until the second act. Even then, I have seen many coming-of-age high school movies that were done much more well than this movie. I didn’t like how the movie was pretending to be an indie film of a similar flavor to (500) Days of Summer (2009); I think it’s hard to do that convincingly as soon as you have to accommodate Emma Watson’s paycheck. I won’t go so far as to say The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a flat out bad movie, but I will say it fell way short of the high expectations I had. It was the most overrated and most overhyped movie I have seen in a very long time. It would have helped if it was less painfully obvious Charlie was going to win Sam’s heart at the end.