Stories can broaden your horizons or deepen your insight. Many of them fail to do either, and this is what I would call a dud movie, though my bar isn’t very high really; even Quantum of Solace broadened my horizons a little! It’s only occasionally that you encounter a story that so closely aligns with your own experience—whether in the abstract or in the literal sense—that you just find yourself completely immersed in it. I haven’t encountered it for some time, and I may have forgotten what it was like, because The Perks of Being a Wallflower just took my breath away.
The story of a quiet kid with a troubled past who finds the beginning of high school difficult is hardly new; in fact it’s just about as cliché as they come, but this film provides such a rich backstory and such expertly-developed characters that there is no sense of the cliché about it. It doesn’t take this Pollyanna approach that fools us into thinking that everything will be alright, but it still takes a glass-half-full sort of attitude to life’s dark periods.
The cast, led by an older-than-his-years Logan Lerman, are each one perfectly cast and wonderfully directed. Emma Watson shakes off completely the stain of Hermione Grainger and is the glue drawing attention back to the somewhat depressed protagonist. They are immersed in a world of 1990s grunge-esque culture that doesn’t allow any room for stereotypes without banning them altogether.
The nineties is something of a nondescript decade. Its specific characteristics are not instantly recognisable, and because of a slowed birth rate in developed countries in the 1970s, there are a relatively small proportion of us who think of it as our coming-of-age era, making it an unpopular choice for writers of historical fiction. The decade was characterised by a nervousness that resulted from financial downturns and shifting cultural values. This was the first decade when a critical mass of westerners came to see discrimination on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation or political alignment as intolerable evils, and actually ceased to tolerate them. It was a time of flux, and as such, it defies the kind of definition and clarity the preceding decades enjoy. Add to that the prevailing winds of artistic expression and fashion being a postmodernism that borrowed and redefined aesthetics and oeuvres from the past century, and it really isn’t an easy time to narrow down. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is, I think, the first film made after the nineties that depicts the decade faithfully.
And how! I was 18 again. I felt like I knew these characters and belonged in these spaces. And there was nothing so distinctly American as to be foreign, which really is an achievement for an American film.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower hits that amazing balance of being perfectly mainstream in aesthetic, but with those deeper qualities of impeccable characterisation, a thoroughly engaging story, and a deep moral purpose. And not your deep-as-whale-poo kind of deep; deep like plays-your-heart-like-a-violin deep. Most American films find these qualities elusive, and it is a great relief to enjoy an American film that takes storytelling seriously.
- Emma Watson in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, review (telegraph.co.uk)
- Life and 100 Films – Charlie’s Film Review of The Perks of Being A Wallflower (lifeand100books.com)