Film Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Nice youth pic about an early-’90s high-school freshman misfit taken on by fellow senior misfits benefits from an avalanche of period rock hits and pleasing performances. But “tweener” approach more mainstream than edgy might spell box-office wallflower.

Filmmaker Stephen Chbosky, repurposing his popular young-adult book and his own youth for his directorial debut, delivers a mildly entertaining coming-of-age package with The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Fans of the book and filmgoers drawn to cast members like Harry Potter’s Emma Watson and Indiewood star Ezra Miller may show up, but, as such middle-of-the-road fare requires, word of mouth and positive reviews will be requisite to perk up theatre traffic.

Chbosky’s story here follows Charlie (Logan Lerman) during his first bumpy but life-changing year as a freshman at a suburban Pittsburgh high school. No jock but sensitive and serious, he begins the year as a guy apart. Even his older sister Candace (Nina Dobrev) won’t sit with him in the school cafeteria. Charlie has several passions: tape mixes of his favorite pop songs and writing, which his inspiring teacher Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd) encourages by giving him advice and books to read.

Socially awkward, Stephen is further hobbled by several past events—the suicide of a best friend and death of his favorite aunt Helen (Melanie Lynskey) in a fatal car accident. As the academic year gets underway, Stephen is soon adopted by a clique of free-spirited seniors. Leaders of this pack are Sam (Emma Watson) and her openly gay, somewhat flamboyant stepbrother Patrick (Ezra Miller). Sam struggles with family problems, loose behavior and an inability to get into Penn State University. Patrick betrays his considerable rebellious streak in many ways, including being an enthusiastic performer at the local theatre’s Rocky Horror Picture Show screenings.

Under their guidance and with quiet support from his loving parents (Dylan McDermott and Kate Walsh), Stephen ventures toward adulthood as he encounters first love, discrimination that involves Patrick and his secret jock lover, pot and lots of music (those tape mixes). Also along this path is bossy, wealthy fellow student Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman), who has a big crush on Stephen but whose aggressiveness may be too crushing.

Chbosky, using Stephen’s voiceover as filler, is a little lazy with some of his story elements (Who was the friend who shot himself?). For narrative ballast, he underscores the Catholicism that strengthens his hero’s family ties and the mental trauma of Aunt Helen’s death that may undo Stephen. Actual Pittsburgh locations also anchor Stephen’s story and world.