The Perks of Being a Wallflower review

Based on Stephen Chbosky’s bestselling and widely banned 1999 epistolary novel,The Perks of Being a Wallflower ultimately fails to live up to its source material. A “but not too quirky” poor man’s Wes Anderson flick set in a typically abysmal high school with as many teenage stereotypes as a Disney Channel musical, Perks heavily suffers from the same clichés that mark the oxymoronic genre of “mainstream indie.”The soundtrack reads like a Pitchfork mixtape with songs from Sonic Youth’sDaydream Nation and Pavement’s Slanted and Enchanted, neither of which was name-checked in the book. The lackluster nature of the soundtrack also provides for countless awkward montages, the most ridiculous of all being a melodramatic (a word which could describe 99 percent of the film) three minutes of Sam (Emma Watson in her second post-Potter role) imitating a bird in flight while perched on the trunk of her stepbrother’s car as David Bowie’s overblown anthem “Heroes” blares through a dark Pittsburgh tunnel. In what could very well be described as a plot hole, or at the very least, irony, none of our Smiths-savvy teenage rebel protagonists recognize the title or the artist of one of Bowie’s greatest hits. “We can be hipsters, just for one day,” apparently.

While most of the characters of the novel lacked three-dimensional development from the beginning despite strong potential, they haven’t improved after 13 years, even becoming less likable in the process. Chbosky, who worked for decades as a screenwriter for various projects such as the CBS drama series Jericho and a canceled film adaptation of educational cartoon Schoolhouse Rock before choosing to direct this adaptation of his own novel, described the character of Patrick (Ezra Miller from We Need to Talk About Kevin) as the perfect brother he never had, as well as the ultimate role model for gay adolescents “who would instantly punch anyone who dared call him a ‘faggot.’” However, while Patrick evades all gay stereotypes, even briefly entering a relationship with closeted quarterback Brad (Johnny Simmons), taboo by the standards of both the high school status quo and Brad’s evangelically Christian and physically abusive father, Patrick also falls short of being a perfect role model. True, he is gregariously kind to psychologically troubled and initially friendless freshman Charlie (Logan Lerman), the titular wallflower of the film, but at the same time Patrick cruelly mocks a former Vietnam veteran who teaches the industrial technology class in which he meets Charlie to the point that the teacher barely passes Patrick, just to avoid dealing with his obnoxious, offensive senioritis for another term.

Even more frustratingly, Emma Watson falls victim to the lax characterization and pretentious, borderline preachy dialogue such as “we accept the love we think we deserve” and the cringe-worthy “welcome to the island of misfit toys,” which plagues the entirety of the film. In an interview given on Oct. 5 at Cal Poly, Chbosky admitted that when she auditioned for Perks, he discovered “a shy, nervous young girl behind all the Emma Watson-ness,” a concept that eerily mirrors the life of Marilyn Monroe, the subject (but not the role) of Watson’s previous film, My Week with Marilyn.Unfortunately, Chbosky failed to add elements of such complexity to Sam’s personality, and much of Watson’s screen time is unfortunately devoted to simply sexualizing her, giving her role too much Marilyn and not enough Norma Jean. She does fall victim to the selfish demands of Penn State student Craig (Reece Thompson) while resisting Charlie’s innocuous admiration for her, but this only contributes to those exhausting “nice guys finish last, bad boys win” themes in which this film generously indulges. But hey, in lieu of legitimate compliments, at least Craig’s alma mater leads to no Penn State jokes, and neither of Charlie’s drug experimentations results in a fluorescent Disney acid sequence, despite multitudes of unwelcome melodrama.

 

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