Starring: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller
Directed by: Stephen Chbosky (debut)
Written by: Stephen Chbosky (“Rent”)
As the music swelled and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” cut to black, I felt a twinge of regret that the teenage version of myself didn’t have this film (or the book it was adapted from, for that matter) to both obsess over and hold up as a parallel to my high school life, accurate or not. What self-diagnosed misunderstood teenage male can’t identify with being an outsider or suffering through the ultimate tragedy that is unrequited love?
While I venture on into my 30s, though, these things become embarrassing relics from a life gone by. What is it about high school that activates the mopey, me-against-the-world response in some people? Life wasn’t that bad, you know? As such, if you’re a pre-Millennial, “Wallflower” may make you wonder why you were such an insufferable teenage ass.
Written and directed by the book’s author Stephen Chbosky, “Wallflower” begins with Charlie’s (Logan Lerman) first day of high school. An undercurrent of tragedy and awkwardness follow Charlie as he ventures into the maw of early-’90s teenage culture, where no one has a cell phone and the preferred method of expressing your deepest feelings for someone was via mix tape. Friendless and skittish, Charlie takes a chance and latches on to gay class clown Patrick (Ezra Miller) and his beautiful, music-savvy step-sister Sam (Emma Watson). Charlie finds happiness in both friends and in school, thanks to the attention of English teacher Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd) fostering Charlie’s love of reading with a steady diet of angst-filled teenage literature like “Catcher in the Rye” and “A Separate Peace.” And all the while Charlie finds himself falling in love with the unavailable Sam.
While the modern teenage experience may remains timeless, the details add a timeliness that might trip up the casual viewer. The gentle suggestion of the time period, the early-’90s, both helps and hurts the world of the film. The production design mostly avoids obvious fashion choices, sparing the audience from reliving the wardrobe styles of “Saved by the Bell,” but the pre-smartphone lifestyle may be difficult for today’s teens to grasp. After all, one of the plot points involve the main characters not being able to figure out what the name of the song was they heard on the radio once. Nevermind that’s it’s obviously David Bowie’s “Heroes.” Even this grizzled 33-year-old can can just barely remember when that was a real world problem–which is a recurring theme, as it were.
In the end, though, “Wallflower” has the vibe of a sad rock song: maybe all the details don’t line up exactly with your life, but when one or two do, damn…it feels like it’s speaking only to you.