The Perks of Being a Wallflower: Perks & cons
"THE PERKS of Being a Wallflower" takes the other side of the bullied high-school outcast story and shows us a teen who discovers the fun of belonging.
Charlie (Logan Lerman) is the embodiment of the "it gets better campaign," a depressed and traumatized kid trying to re-enter the rocky orbit of 10th grade after a stretch in the mental hospital.
He has some shaky moments, but he also has a supportive family, and one lucky day, he strikes up a friendship with the school's leading misfit, Patrick (Ezra Miller), and his beautiful but troubled (mostly beautiful) stepsister Sam (Emma Watson).
He is warmly received into a cheerful and supportive web of people who "get" him - he's a smart kid whose offbeat monologues make him a hit a parties, especially after the marijuana brownies are served.
"Perks" gets some things right about teen life: the way Charlie pines for the girl he can't have (the older Sam) and gets steamrollered into dating one of her friends, which leads to a tumultuous round of Truth or Dare.
Other elements seem a little musty. The movie is adapted from the popular book by Stephen Chbosky (he directs), and is at times a regrettably close cousin to "The Words" and its Great-Suffering-produces-Great-Art ideas. Charlie is a budding writer, and the more we learn of the origins of his trauma, the more we are certain of his path to successful author.
The school turns out to have an alarmingly large population of children with serious abuse and trauma in their lives, and the movie has a contemporary candor about all of it that seems out of step with its purported 1991 setting. (There is more public cross-dressing among teen boys than I remember from the administration of George Bush the elder.)
All of this comes to a head with cathartic revelations followed by rapid wisdom and healing - and it's a little much. But, true to its title, it returns to the affecting optimism of its early scenes, and its defining image of teen friends, souls briefly entwined, hurtling down the open road of possibility.
Contact movie critic Gary Thompson at 215-854-5992 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at philly.com/keepitreel.