TORONTO — There are both advantages and drawbacks to The Perks of Being a Wallflower, a heartfelt but rather generic coming-of-age dramedy from writer-director Stephen Chbosky.
Adapted by the filmmaker from his popular 1999 novel, this Pittsburgh-set story about a forlorn high school freshman who falls in with a gang of iconoclastic seniors features some amusing insights into adolescent angst but is impeded by the usual indie film accoutrements — quirky voice-over, well-studied alt-rock soundtrack, buried family secrets — to the point that it never quite takes on a life of its own. A limited late-September release by Summit should see moderate numbers, while co-star Emma Watson will ensure decent overseas distribution and ancillary play.
Charlie (Logan Lerman) is your typical self-effacing teenager: He keeps his head down in the hallway, he never raises his hand in class even though he knows all the answers and he secretly aspires to be a writer, volunteering his own extra-credit book reports on various bildungsroman (The Great Gatsby, On the Road, The Catcher in the Rye) for his inspirational advanced English teacher (Paul Rudd).
“Only 1,305 days left,” is how Charlie describes his first day at school, though that attitude quickly changes when he meets the lively and sardonic Patrick (Ezra Miller) and his stepsister, Sam (Watson), a waiflike Smiths fanatic with Edie Sedgwick hair and a knack for falling in love with the wrong guy. The three soon form a tight clique with a shared affiliation for mixtapes, pot brownies and late-night joyrides, while Charlie starts to slowly lust for Sam but lacks the courage to ask her out.
Such is the familiar setup of Chbosky’s well-intentioned period piece (set in the early ’90s), which offers up a few early laughs — mostly involving Patrick’s semi-badass behavior — while gradually providing hints about Charlie’s darker side, though he tends to remain a cipher throughout most of the movie. “You see things, you understand. You’re a wallflower,” he is told, but it’s difficult to invest in a character who often sticks to the sidelines and only reveals himself through voice-over (which takes the form of letters written to an unknown friend), until his bomb of a backstory is dropped in the closing reel.
More intriguing, if not exactly original, is Patrick’s secret relationship with the school’s star quarterback (Johnny Simmons). Miller (We Need to Talk About Kevin) brings much life to the various party scenes and bug-out moments, including a Rocky Horror Picture Show performance that shows he can hold his own in drag.
Taking on an American accent and a character who’s far less assertive than Harry Potter’s Hermione, Watson gives an adequate but not quite memorable turn, and Sam remains more an object of Charlie’s eye than a full-fledged personality. Lerman (Writers) fits the part of the troubled, awkward teen fairly well, yet only gets a chance to display real gravitas when it’s all too late in the game.
Tech credits are passable, while fans of Sonic Youth and the like will find themselves entirely satiated by the film’s hardworking soundtrack.
Production companies: Mr. Mudd
Cast: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Kate Walsh, Paul Rudd, Dylan McDermott
Director: Stephen Chbosky
Screenwriter: Stephen Chbosky, based on his novel
Producers: Lianne Halfon, Russell Smith, John Malkovich
Executive producers: Stephen Chbosky, James Powers
Director of photography: Andrew Dunn
Production designer: Inbal Weinberg
Music: Michael Brook, Alexandra Patsavas
Costume designer: David C. Robinson
Editor: Mary Jo Markey
Sales: Summit Entertainment
No rating, 102 minutes