The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Powerful performances in ‘The Perks of Being a Wildflower’

Will Neal | Wednesday, October 10, 2012


On February 1, 1999, author Stephen Chbosky welcomed the world to “the island of misfit toys” in his novel, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” Twelve years later, Chbosky had the unheard of opportunity to not only write but also direct the cinematic adaptation of his book. The result is an emotionally jarring and sincere film about the trials of high school that will resonate with anyone who has ever felt like an outcast. The success of this film stems from a well-structured story, hard-hitting subject matter and three incredibly moving performances from the lead actors. 

The plot centers around an emotionally unstable freshman named Charlie (Logan Lerman, from “Percy Jackson and the Olympians”), as he writes letters to an anonymous pen pal about his experiences of high school. Charlie is an awkward and quiet student who fights the emotions of a troubled past and a dark secret that comes with it. His older sister, a senior, ignores him in school while his parents at home have trouble connecting with him. In other words, Charlie has a lot of trouble when it comes to making friends. When Charlie finally builds up the courage to step out and talk to a senior named Patrick (Ezra Miller, from “We Need to Talk about Kevin”), Patrick and his attractive step-sister Sam (Emma Watson, from…you know who she is) take Charlie under their wing. Charlie is soon brought into their exciting world of house parties, “Rocky Horror Picture Show” reenactments, mix-tapes and reckless tunnel driving. The experiences these three characters share comes off as a genuine friendship, and their humor and emotions are all the more effective. 

Despite coming off as a classic high school plotline with plenty of humor, there is a real darkness to this film that stays true to its original source. These main characters, especially Charlie, have secrets that will bring them to their emotional breaking points and test their friendships. During the film, I was waiting to learn about what traumatic event happened to Charlie in his past, and just when I thought I had it figured out, the story delivers a shocking answer. I won’t say that this is a depressing film, but it does deal with some heavy subject matter among Charlie, Patrick and Sam. 

Lerman (Charlie) delivers a both impressive and subtle performance, as he’s effectively able to dance through a wide array of adolescent emotions. Watson (Sam) sheds any trace of her Hermione Granger persona and shows off her impressive acting chops to prove she is a true talent. I’ve heard complaints that Watson isn’t an appropriate match for the character, but from where I was sitting, she was nailing her performance every step of the way.  However, the indisputable stand-out performance of the film goes to Ezra Miller (Patrick), who proves he may be one of the most talented stars among our generation. Stealing nearly every scene he’s in, Miller is electrifying, hilarious, yet extremely well balanced throughout the film. I can say with certainty that all three of these young actors have a strong future ahead of them. 

If there’s any complaint to be made about the film, it’s that “Perks” can come off as a little sappy at times and lose its sense of reality when it plays off familiar high school clichés (then again, high school is nothing but clichés). These minor issues, however, mean nothing compared to what works well in the film. “Perks” is touching, funny, beautifully acted and overall a truly intimate piece of filmmaking. You’ll rarely find an “outcast film” that can compare to the days of “The Breakfast Club,” but “Perks” rises to the occasion by delivering a simple, yet powerful story about friendships and acceptance that will successfully resonate with our generation. 

High Note: Powerful performances and a story of high school that can deliver both humor and heavy subject matter with success. 

Low Note: A few minor sappy moments and high school clichés distract from the realness of the film. 

Side Note: Logan Lerman was almost chosen to play Peter Parker in “The Amazing Spiderman.” 

Contact Will Neal at wneal@nd.edu