Pleasantly surprising is how I would describe the Stephen Chbosky directed, Stephen Chbosky-adapted version of Stephen Chbosky’s coming of age book, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I’ve never read the novel, but the quality of the movie speaks for itself, I think.
Despite being pleasantly surprised, I still found some issues with the film, mainly with small, ten to fifteen second increments of lines mainly during the beginning of the movie. They just didn’t fit. Logan Lerman’s (Percy Jackson) flashback sequences to himself as a small child with his Aunt Helen, played by Melanie Lynskey (Heavenly Creatures, Up in the Air), are frustrating at best. Lynskey, who gave her career best performance in her teens and has now been relegated to the realms of small parts in decent-to-big-name movies, is given some of the cheesiest lines to read. She does her best, but the lines are just too bad. A few other bad lines are peppered throughout the screenplay, and they stick out like sore thumbs. The screenplay’s saving graces are twofold. Firstly, those bad lines tend to come toward the first half of the film, with only Aunt Helen’s lines continuing, and even then at a reduced rate. Secondly, the scenes at the very end of the film, where Logan Lerman is breaking down, are incredibly well written. I don’t usually cry in movies, but I teared up. That’s how powerful they are.
This power brings us to another potential problem the movie poses for itself that it then handily suppresses: the large amount of voice-overs. I don’t particularly care for voice-overs and they’re often my least favorite part of movies when they are there. Fortunately, Lerman handles the potential pitfall wonderfully. He speaks every one with conviction and genuine emotion.
Chbosky’s direction and the technical elements of the film are unremarkable, but certainly not bad. The music, largely song-based, is wonderfully chosen and implemented. Honestly, the more technical aspects don’t really matter because the movie, as I’ve already hinted, is made great by its performances, especially its 3 leads.
Each one of these three these lead characters has a sort of mask, a method through which to hide the traumatic experiences and issues they’ve already faced in their young lives. Despite these masks, each actor finds a way to show their vulnerability in a believable, effective, and convincing way.
Even the smaller parts in the movies are good. Mae Whitman (Arrested Development, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Parenthood) is good as another new friend of Charlie’s, Mary Elizabeth. Paul Rudd (Friends, Our Idiot Brother, Knocked Up) is warm and welcoming as Mr. Anderson, and Kate Walsh (Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice) and Dylan McDermott (The Practice, American Horror Story) are effective and pretty convincing as Charlie’s parents. Joan Cusack (Broadcast News, Working Girl, In & Out, Toy Story 2 & 3) has what essentially amounts to little more than an extended cameo as Dr. Burton, but she makes the most of it. Nina Dobrev (The Vampire Diaries) is also fine as Charlie’s sister, Candace.
Overall, the film is a bold, fresh new entry into the teenage film genre, complementing The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller quite well. Its take on the emotional issues as well as those with self-confidence and acceptance in high school are unfortunately spot on, and it deals with the difficult issues powerfully and gracefully. I liked this film a lot. Especially when considering how much I was expecting a mediocre-to-good film at best. Though not perfect or even nearly so, Perks is still very enjoyable, extremely funny, quite well acted, more often than not powerfully written, sometimes immensely poignant, and innately hopeful in its outlook on life. It’s a breath of fresh air. ★★★★ out of ★★★★★.