Thursday 11 October 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) - Stephen Chbosky

Stephen Chbosky is actually a screenwriter by trade, with The Perks of Being a Wallflower being his debut novel.  Now in cinematic form, Perks was re-written, directed and produced by Chbosky himself.  As such, this is literally the author's vision on film and a mostly faithful adaptation of the novel - albeit a trimmed version.  

Initially, Perks feels like a typical teen movie: quirky, loner protagonist with erudite taste in literature; precocious scriptwriting; retro soundtrack; and a narrative that depicts the trials and tribulations of growing up.  Think Adrian Mole played by Michael Cera.  Yet whilst Perks fits neatly in this tradition, it's by no means trying too hard to be cool.  Chbosky ultimately provides a moving story that is heavily dependant on its shocking final twist - a twist that, in retrospect, informs the feel of both the novel and the film, with some tough themes subtly addressed in touching manner.

By trimming the fat of the book, the focus shifts almost solely on to the relationships between the central three characters - Charlie, Sam and Patrick.  Disappointingly, the film has little room for the novel's quirky fringe characters (Paul Rudd's English tutor Mr Anderson especially), despite some comedy one-liners from Dylan McDermott as Charlie's father.  As a result, the casting and characterisation are integral to the success of the film and it's here that Chbosky surprisingly stumbles.

There's a dichotomy at play with Charlie, our protagonist.  The novel's narrative plays out as a series of letters, giving us unparalleled insight into the character's psyche.  Clearly deeply troubled, it is left for the reader to decide whether Charlie is severely mentally disabled, perhaps even mildly autistic, or whether he's simply a bit socially awkward.  This reaches a peak in the final chapters, when all is finally and powerfully revealed.  However, Logan Lerman's portrayal in the film is more awkward geek, underplaying the disturbing aspects of the character.  Whilst this is a case of personal taste, Lerman undoubtedly comes into his own at the film's climax, with a genuinely loveable performance.

Emma Watson is sadly miscast as Sam.  On the one hand she has successfully shaken off the shackles of Potter and proven she is a capable actress.  Yet Sam is a particularly quirky, alternative character whose undeniable charisma has a profound effect on Charlie.  Watson surely lights up the frame, but she's simply not cool enough to play Sam.

It falls on Ezra Miller, therefore, to provide Perks's leading performance.  A total contrast to his demonic turn in We Need To Talk About Kevin, his performance as the eccentric yet troubled Patrick is pitch-perfect, deftly able to switch from stocking-clad Rocky Horror glamour to heart-broken devastation.

Juno may have been the more original take on the teen drama that equally tackles some tough themes, but Perks's unforeseen ending elevates the film from another teen movie to something more powerful.  The characterisation may be (arguably) skewed from the novel, but Perks will appeal to teen dreamers and the youthful romantic inside us all.