Directed by Stephen Chbosky. Starring Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Paul Rudd, Tom Savini, Joan Cusack 15A cert, general release, 103 min
IT’S 1991 AND 14-year-old Charlie (Logan Lerman) is a high school freshman with a history of mental illness. Charlie, we learn, has only ever felt close to his Aunt Helen, who died in a car crash when he was seven, and his BF Michael, who committed suicide several months previously.
Happily, the traumatised youngster is quickly adopted by mix-tape-wielding cool seniors led by the fabulous Sam (Emma Watson) and her flamboyant gay stepbrother Patrick (Ezra Miller). Bootleg copies of The Smiths’ Asleep are soon exchanged and Charlie finds additional support from a kindly English teacher (Paul Rudd), with a shelf full of coming-of-age classics.
Emboldened by his new gothlet friends and intellectual pursuits, Charlie takes to the stage for a Rocky Horror Picture Show recital and attracts the attentions of the clique-queen, Mary-Elizabeth (Mae Whitman). But all is not well: Charlie’s puppy-dog crush on Sam threatens to destabilise the entire proto-grunge hipster collective and perhaps our hero’s fragile mental state. As lunchroom melodramas rage, flashbacks hint at the inner demons Charlie has kept hidden since childhood.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower began life as a nostalgic epistolary novel on MTV’s literary imprint in 1999. The film retains the source material’s gushing affections for the pre-internet, pre-mobile, pre-Nevermind age: “They’re playing cool music,” screams Sam innocently as Dexys’ Come on Eileen strikes up at the school dance. Elsewhere, with no Shazam or Soundhound at their disposal, the group fail to recognise David Bowie’s Heroes.
When the sensitive teen drama isn’t hearting 1991 it desperately wants to be Pittsburgh’s Catcher in the Rye. The Salinger book dutifully appears when the English teacher presents Charlie with a copy in a series of library loans that includes On the Road and all the usual suspects. Wallflower suffers from the comparison.
The film’s darker twists and turns don’t always convince. But working from his own novel, writer-director Stephen Chbosky radiates a lovely, squishy warmth toward teen outsiders.
Inevitably, Wallflower will be remembered as an Emma Watson picture. Good for her: the Harry Potter star has more to do here than in all her terms at Hogwarts. She’s charming but, for us, Miller’s boundless charisma and Lerman’s painfully authentic depiction of psychological instability jointly steal the show.