After enough years of watching films, certain genres tend to approach a vanishing point of sorts, where plot points, tropes and themes collapse into a sort of melange of expectations. Indie coming of age high school/early college movies would be one of those genres. They all hit the same story beats. The awkward nerd of a main character comes to a new school and is generally awkward and nerdy until he/she discovers a group of equally awkward and nerdy people who are comfortable in their own skin and become fast friends. It is inevitable that one of their number is of the opposite sex of our intrepid hero (though that isn’t even technically necessary anymore) and serves as the romantic foil for the film. Depressing and fashionably trendy guitar-based indie music is played on car stereos. People sit around in their bohemian lifestyles talking about life and love and that same indie music.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower follows all of these conventions. Logan Lerman is our protagonist, and Emma Watson his romantic conquest. And to be honest, a good bit of Perks does feel like a bit of an underachievement. The first two acts still manage to entertain, relying heavily on the charm and chemistry of Lerman, Watson and Ezra Miller (Kevin of We Need to Talk About… fame). Miller gets to play the flashy role of a flamboyantly gay character inhabiting a time period where this was not a popular thing (the film appears to take place in Pittsburgh sometime in the 80’s, though a specific time is never hammered down), and handles it well, but it’s Watson in particular who needed a grand performance in his first major role of her post Potter career. While her choice of accent is maddening and at times inconsistent, she does her job well and certainly proves successful as the object of main character Charlie’s affection. A smattering of famous adults round out the cast, but this is about the kids, and the roles of Paul Rudd, Dylan McDermott, et al. amount to little more than cameos.
The film comes into its own as things progress and more light is shed on Charlie. Undeveloped social skills notwithstanding, there is much more going on beyond the surface than was originally anticipated. Specifics are not particularly necessary here, as the revelation of the major undercurrent that colors the entire film is subtle. While it is not the sort of earth-shattering Fight Club level revelation, my expectation is that The Perks of Being a Wallflower will seem quite different on a second viewing. What is does manage to do is allow Perks to rise above the standard indie rom com fare to something at least a little more special.
My one gripe is a tiny one, but it is one that nearly took me out of the film. There is a moment early on, one of the moments that cements Charlie’s infatuation with Emma Watson’s Sam. It takes place in a car, and there is a song playing on the radio that captures the imagination of all three characters. They rave about how great the song is and wish they knew what it was or who was singing it. The problem here is the fact that the song chosen for this moment in the movie is David Bowie’s “Heroes.” While at the time, “Heroes” may not have been Bowie’s biggest hit, there is literally no way that these music aficionados would not have at the very least recognized that Bowie was singing the song. I feel like if your room is covered in posters for The Smiths, you should probably be able to recognize David Bowie’s voice. It’s a small gripe, sure, but one that comes very close to breaking the suspension of disbelief. Luckily, the film perseveres beyond this silly little criticism, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower turns out a winner, if a somewhat formulaic one.