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The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Released 3 October 2012
Director Stephen Chbosky

Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Paul Rudd, Nina Dobrev, Dylan McDermott, Mae Whitman
Writer(s) Stephen Chbosky

Lianne Halfon, John Malkovich, Russell Smith
Origin United States
Running Time 102 minutes
Genre Drama, romance
Rating 15A

They are infinite.

It is a hotly debated topic, but there are few films adapted from famous books that are generally agreed to be better than the source material. For every Fight Club or The Shining there are hundreds of failed literary adaptations almost universally hated by fans of the book.

And while the big literary film of the year is probably going be either Walter Salles’ On The Road or Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby (either of which may even turn out to live up to the source material, but I have my doubts), it’s Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks Of Being A Wallflower which hits all the right adaptation notes.

A coming of age tale set in early ‘90s small town America, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower deals frankly with some tough topics –including mental illness, suicide, drug use and homosexuality – in a surprisingly refreshing and down to earth way. While it follows the structure of writer/director Chbosky’s own novel fairly closely, it manages to utilise the medium of film to innovate the structure. One particularly notable improvement from the written word is a soundtrack which utilises The Smiths and David Bowie to wonderful effect.

The success of a story such as this lies in its characters, and it is here that the young cast really shine. Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief) gives a superb yet understated performance as Charlie, the main character/narrator /titular “wallflower” who struggles to fit into his first year of high school after some traumatic events in his past.

While Charlie inevitably fails to befriend the popular kids, he soon finds companionship with the oddball brother and sister duo Patrick and Sam (Ezra Miller and Emma Watson). Just as Lerman’s sheltered life is blown apart by this chance encounter, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower is uplifted by a pair of incredible performances from Miller and Watson. Watson’s character couldn’t be further from Hermione Granger, and she feels much better suited to this type of role, giving a genuinely captivating and enticing performance as the sultry, mysterious Sam.

The razor sharp dialogue threads moments of witty humour (including a fantastic nod to the Rocky Horror Picture Show) through the dark and melancholy nature of the story, while Chbosky’s careful direction deals out exposition and rich character development with slow subtlety. The final revelation is totally unexpected and yet fits perfectly with all that has come before.

A comparison to On The Road or Gatsby is quite apt, considering how The Perks Of Being A Wallflower bears plenty of nods to Chbosky’s literary icons, including Jack Kerouac and F. Scott Fitzgerald. But what Chbosky has managed to do is take a series of literary tropes and incorporate them effortlessly into the medium of cinema. The resulting film plays something like Juno meets the Dead Poets Society, and is easily as good as either of those, if not better.

Admittedly there is little in this film which hasn’t been done somewhere else before, but The Perks Of Being A Wallflower manages to hit just about every note right. All of the performances are spot on, the script is incredibly tight and manages to compress a lot of weighty themes into a short running time, and the soundtrack is pretty much perfect. By the time the 'Tunnel Song' plays over the end credits you’ll understand.

- Bernard O’Rourke