"The Perks of Being a Wallflower" is an endearing, if flawed, coming-of-age story anchored by strong performances that mask the feeling that we've seen this chronicle many times before.
The adventures of the misfit high schooler have become a mainstay of modern cinema, and Stephen Chbosky's film, based on his widely popular novel, is better than most at capturing that unrivaled time of perpetual insecurity.
But despite his earnestness, the film seems underdeveloped, enough to appease the book's legion of fans, but still short of a completely fresh entry in an oversaturated genre.
|'The Perks of Being a Wallflower'|
|2.5 out of 4 stars|
|Stars: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Paul Rudd, Dylan McDermott and Kate Walsh|
|Director: Stephen Chbosky|
|Rated: PG-13 for mature thematic material, drug and alcohol use, sexual content including references, and a fight, all involving teens|
|Running Time: 103 minutes|
Set in a Pittsburgh suburb in the early 1990s, our wallflower is 15-year-old Charlie (Logan Lerman), a freshman coping with the recent suicide of his best friend and other personal demons driving a not-so-secret mental illness. The naive protagonist latches on to a pair of seniors, Sam (Emma Watson) and her flamboyant stepbrother Patrick (Ezra Miller), who welcome Charlie onto their "island of misfit toys."
The group is infinitely more interesting than most of their peers, wading through the treacherous waters of love, drugs and identity. In fact, the dialogue spouted off by these teenagers is so polished, so cognizant and self-aware they at times appear to be 18 going on 40 rather than organic characters.
Yet this trio of commanding performances makes it easier to excuse those brief missteps that undermine authenticity.
The real standout is Miller, who embodies full confidence as an out-of-the-closet teenager before displaying a quiet vulnerability impossible to ignore in a film that mostly wears emotion on its sleeve. After Miller's haunting turn as a sociopathic teenager in the unsettling "We Need to Talk About Kevin," his acting range is abundantly clear -- an impressive achievement so early in a career oozing with promise.
Many will forget, however, that Paul Rudd, Dylan McDermott and Kate Walsh are in the film at all. Rudd is criminally wasted as Charlie's favorite teacher; somehow we're supposed to surmise a life-changing connection from a few brief scenes in which the English teacher gives his favorite pupil some books. Understandably, Charlie's parents take a back seat to his newfound high school friends, but McDermott and Walsh are potted plants that in no way illuminate their son's behavior.
But the ability of "Wallflower" to awaken our own high school memories -- and the evolution in how we now perceive them -- makes it worthy viewing no matter your age or familiarity with the book.