The problem with life is that it disobeys the rules of a coming-of-age movie. Whenever you address your problems head-on, start to discover yourself, only to sink into doubt during a crisis of confidence only to overcome that doubt and emerge changed and better, the credits don't roll, leaving you happy ever after.
Instead, something awful happens that makes you realize you really haven't learned anything. You're no better off than you were before, and the only thing that came of your coming of age is more age.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is determined to be more like life than a coming-of-age movie, and it's worse off for it. It lures you into the corner of Charlie (Logan Lerman), a tortured, friendless freshman, then lets a few good things happen for him, only to torpedo everything and have him sink to lower depths than before, with tougher problems and less hope.
Credit director Stephen Chbosky for nailing the rhythms and hells of adolescent life. His movie is based on his screenplay, which is based on his book, which is probably based on his memories, which is definitely based on a mess of insecurities and dread. The movie amounts to a brain dump about how hard it is to make friends, keep them, find romance and not screw it up, all while hanging on to your fleeting sanity.
Wallflower would be even more of a downer if not for the presence of Ezra Miller, who was Kevin in We Need to Talk About Kevin. As a flamboyant social outcast named Patrick, he takes the movie by force as the ringleader of a group informally called the Wallflowers, which is high school's version of the Island of Lost Toys. Chbosky seems more interested in coloring Patrick's character than the one that's probably based on himself, so he gives him all the best lines, most entertaining things to do and most absorbing conflicts.
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Patrick may be the king Wallflower, but he's more like the giant man-eating piranha plant in the center of the room. Charlie, on the other hand, is so effective at living up to the Wallflower title that it's tough to see what Sam (Emma Watson), Patrick's stepsister and equally interesting wild child, would ever see in him.
Watson's got more talent than her Harry Potter classmates -- she was Hermione, in case you only ever knew her as That Girl Who Played Hermione Eight Times -- and it's exciting to see her trash her prim typecast to play the sort of girl moms warn their sons about. Patrick and Sam are too interesting to be relegated to sidebars in Charlie's long, dull descent into doom, and deserve their own movie so much that you start to coordinate your bathroom breaks and cell phone time checks to when they're off the screen.
The movie's other stars also have far too little to do. Paul Rudd plays Charlie's awesome English teacher, who cultivates the talent he sees in the kid. You hope he's got a plot twist or extra dimension somewhere up his tweed sleeves, but there's nothing. Kate Walsh and Dylan McDermott are Charlie's clueless parents, but you'll have to check IMDB to verify that they were even in the movie.
No such check is necessary to make sure Lerman plays sad, aloof and bored Charlie, who proves the greatest perk of being a real Wallflower is that at least you don't get stuck watching a movie about one.
Starring Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Kate Walsh, Dylan McDermott and Paul Rudd. Written and directed by Stephen Chbosky, based on his novel. 102 minutes. Rated PG-13.