The Case for: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

by Chris Dale

Making a case for Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower is not an easy task. It’s a deserving film, no doubt, but there is no sparkle, no pizzazz, no excitement. It’s the rare film that does nothing more than try to tell a story in a clean, unsophisticated way. It has a firm sense of time, place and character, you know, the fundamentals. It’s not quirky, nor experimental, nor innovative. You will not leave the theater thinking that what you’ve seen is revolutionary, groundbreaking or inventive.

Nor does the film have a pedigree that grabs your attention. The film is written and directed by Chbosky who adapted it from a young adult novel he wrote 13 years prior. Its cast is largely unknown or unheralded. The only cast member with major film experience is Emma Watson from the Harry Potter series, which many will more likely see as a detriment than a positive. And to make it an even harder sell to voters it hasn’t done particularly well at the box office. At only 16 million dollars, to many this film is a mostly forgettable coming-of-age teen movie that got a handful of good critical notices. “Next!” you can hear the crotchety old Hollywood legend yell as he sifts through his stack of screeners.

But what this film has is restrained direction, a smart screenplay, and a slew of sensitive performances. It clearly has many influences from coming-of-age dramas of the past, from the alienation in The Graduate, a premise from Sixteen Candles, and a central tragedy from Mysterious Skin. But it never steals from these films, it merely uses them as a jumping off point. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is unique unto itself.

The film opens to pre-emo The Samples’ “Could it Be Another Change” a forgotten song from a forgotten group from somewhere in Colorado. It’s the first of many songs you’ve probably not heard recently, if ever. It’s the first clue that perhaps this film will take a different path. And that’s quickly confirmed as the camera introduces us to Charley, expertly played by Logan Lerman. Charley is writing a letter to an unspecified recipient who is only identified as “someone who doesn’t sleep with someone even though they could have.” We have no idea who this is but we quickly surmise this is some sort of confessional as he admits to being hospitalized when he was young. For what, we don’t know.

We quickly see that Charley is an outsider who has no friends. He’s also wickedly smart and has a penchant for literature. He’s also part of a family of seemingly well-adjusted people whom Charley loves but can’t entirely relate. But Charley’s world is not what it first seems, as we see his sister’s boyfriend strike her. This won’t be your typical coming-of-age story. Indeed as Charley finds friends, we also learn that Charley has experienced two heart wrenching tragedies in his young life, one of which we learn is far more complex than what we are originally led to believe.

But it’s Charley’s new friends that allow him to place some distance between the present and the past. Charley is drawn to these people because they too are outcasts, and they too have pasts they are trying to escape. He meets Patrick (Ezra Miller) who is having a clandestine relationship with the extremely closeted high school quarterback. And Charley develops a crush on Patrick’s stepsister Sam (Emma Watson), who’s been taken advantage of sexually from an early age.

And this is where Chbosky shows a tremendous ability to tell a story that isn’t prurient or exploitative, he shows restraint as we see these damaged people live mostly happy lives with the help of the people around them. The film wisely avoids stereotypical plot development, one subplot even stalls abruptly and never resumes. These people’s lives meander somewhat purposely as they try to get through the school year so they can begin whatever happens after.

And as the film develops Chbosky gives us so many memorable lines and situations and small exchanges even with minor characters. Chbosky has a gift at getting to the core of a character in a manner of seconds and it’s never done in a simple or predictable way. And by the end, we have moved on from the idea that this is just a coming-of-age tale, it’s really a tale of tragedy and redemption, one that will, if you give it the opportunity break your heart and then promptly heal it after.

There’s a scene early on where Charley, Sam and Patrick are driving on a crowded highway and an unidentified song comes on and all three are drawn to it. Sam quickly instructs her stepbrother to head to the tunnel and we see her stand in the back arms akimbo giving in to the wind. The cars around them vanish and all we see are the three of them living in the moment and then Charley turns and says to Patrick, “I feel infinite.” And that’s how the movie makes you feel. When you leave the theater, you too will feel infinite. And alive. And it will do it in a way you’ve never felt before.

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41 Comments

  1. AnthonyP
    December 7, 2012

    I don’t think Emma Watson was a detriment. I never once thought of Hermoine when I saw her, but I sure had alot of Ally Sheedy in my mind.
    Which wasn’t a bad thing.

  2. lane
    December 7, 2012

    another great The Case For. Perks was fantastic- a classic in the coming of age genre. And Logan Lerman deserves Academy attention, he was phenomenal. But, tough year for Best Actor category

  3. Dave B
    December 7, 2012

    Perks is clearly one of the best films of the year. The problem is most people just didn’t see it thinking it was another run-of-the-mill coming of age film. But those who have seen it have been moved in such ways that is rare in today’s movie climate. I’ve seen the film three times, and each and every time at the end there were audience members sitting there crying – young and old alike… so this just doesn’t identify with one particular generation. It is a timeless story. That only adds to its greatness.

    It would be great to see Ezra Miller in the Oscar talk for Supporting Actor, but I guess that’s not happening. But he was superb. As were Logan Lerman and Emma Watson, who discarded any resemblence of Hermione and her accent was spot-on!

    Thanks for the article!

  4. Mike
    December 7, 2012

    So glad this was posted. Well-done! Perks is still the best film I’ve seen this year and it’s definitely an instant classic of the coming-of-age genre. The film is beautiful. Logan Lerman is Oscar-worthy, IMO. The movie made me an instant fan of his. I also loved Watson and Miller. The leads were so perfectly cast for these roles.

    I agree with you 150% about leaving the theater feeling “infinite.” It gave me a real high. All three times I saw it. It’s seriously impressive that this is Stephen Chbosky’s first film. It feels like the work of a more accomplished filmmaker. I can’t help but hope he continues making movies.

    I know it’s unlikely but my fingers are definitely crossed that it can score a nomination for something at the Golden Globes.

    I know I already mentioned this in the comments section for the National Board of Review’s Top 10, but I can’t help but feel this film has untapped potential at the Box Office. The reaction to the film by people who see it has been overwhelmingly positive. I think it even received an “A” CinemaScore. I strongly feel that Lionsgate/Summit needs to re-expand this to coincide with Christmas break. If by some miracle it could score a Golden Globe nomination or two there will be even more of a case for this (fingers crossed). This December is less crowded than most. With time off from work and school pretty much everyone is out seeing something, a lot of people take in more than one movie during this time. I feel there’s plenty of room for this too. I think this December is weaker than most. And if it does well enough during the holiday maybe it could stick around a bit in January. There will be a serious lack of PG/PG-13 movies in January. Almost everything is R-Rated, and there isn’t even that many wide releases in January this year.

    This should have been a wide release right off the bat though. If enough people had sampled it opening weekend I think WOM would have carried it a ways. I just can’t help but feel this film would connect with people. You don’t have to be young to relate. You just have to have been young once.

    Sorry to hype this film up because I’d hate for someone to see it after hearing such glowing things and end up disappointed, but for me it was really something special. If I could make everyone see one movie this year this would be it.

  5. Chris138
    December 7, 2012

    Like others have already said, this is still my favorite movie of the year so far and I hope it gets some more recognition in the awards season. I’m not holding out for it to get a BP nomination, that seems pretty unlikely. But perhaps there is a small chance it could get an adapted screenplay nod.

  6. Sam
    December 7, 2012

    I saw Perks, and there were things about it I really liked…but, there were also many I didn’t. I found the movie overall a mediocre to slightly above average film….not awards worthy at all. I am of the John Hughes era, and when I look at a film like this, I DO take into consideration how it stacks up. This film cannot hold with the greats of the Hughes era. And back in the day, a great Hughes movie wouldn’t even be considered an Oscar favorite.

    Emma Watson did remind me of Ally Sheedy, but unfortunately, Ally Sheedy light. She just doesn’t have the fullness and the weight of a real actress yet. I can’t help but wonder what a real actress may have brought to the role. I didn’t believe her as a misfit, or a victim or sexual abuse. I found her to be “not offensive” or “not terrible”. Neither is good enough in a town full of talented young actresses who weren’t in Harry Potter and are American to boot. Mae Whitman in the lead role would have added import to everything. Mae Whitman can act. I thought she was wasted and miscast in the side role she had here. Lerman was good, better then Watson. A bit shallow perhaps, and I love Ezra Miller.

    Also some of the groundbreaking stuff was so old and tired…the standing in the back of the truck with the unknown Bowie music (wtf?) was one of the most forced and corniest things I’ve seen in a movie lately…I guess because it was done and done better many times in the 70s and 80s. Dude, please. And what the hell is up with making mixed tapes? And again, how in the hell would they not have recognized David Bowie? Even if it was a “mystery song”…um, it’s David freaking Bowie. Kind of distinctive.

    Just think this looked like it was trying too hard and not succeeding at being a Breakfast Club for the current generation. I know the current generation has low expectations thanks to growing up with the Disney Channel and Nick, but before you start slinging awards worthy praise on a film that doesn’t add up, let’s make sure the film is at least better then, oh let’s say, St.Elmo’s Fire.

  7. Bennett
    December 7, 2012

    JUST LOVED THE FILM.
    I just thought I would be AMAZING if Logan Lerman got a Golden Globe nomination ad Actor in a Comedy/Musical film, though I don´t know if it’s considered a comedy.

    He truly deserves some attention, because what he does with Charlie is something extraordinary.

  8. Mike
    December 7, 2012

    Sam, the movie takes place in the early 90′s. I don’t know about you but my friends and I used to make mix tapes all of the time. I’ve saved all of the ones I’ve had made for me. And now I make all of my friends mix CD’s.

    Also, “Heroes” wasn’t even a very popular song when it was initially released. It failed to make the US Billboard 100 and only reached #24 on the UK chart. It didn’t make a comeback in the US until it was covered by “The Wallflowers” in 1998. Then it did make the top 10 in the US. It’s so easy to figure out who sings a song now with the internet. I always Google words I know are in the song and put lyrics in the search field in order to find songs that I’ve heard and like but don’t know who sings them. These characters didn’t have that. I don’t think it’s a huge stretch that at the time they didn’t know the song “Heroes.” Charlie is just getting into music, and Sam and Patrick recently started getting into “good music.” Sam says she used to listen to the worst top 40 before she heard the song “Pearly Dewdrops’ Drops.” And she is the one who got Patrick into better music. I think people are making way too big a deal out of them not knowing the song “Heroes.”

  9. Mike
    December 7, 2012

    Bennett, it’s considered a drama, though had it been pushed as a comedy I think it could have scored a couple of nominations. 50/50 was considered a comedy (also a Summit release) and I found that to be more of a drama, especially since it made me cry ;). My Week With Marilyn was a drama and that was in the comedy section too. I think it would have had a great shot at being nominated for “Best Picture” in the musical/comedy section. Best Actor too. I’m still hoping it gets in somewhere. But like I said realistically the only spot I could see it being nominated is Supporting Actress.

    It does have a couple of nominations for the People’s Choice Awards, which is good I guess. So if anyone hasn’t voted in those yet do it. I’ve voted several times as you can vote multiple, though I only voted more than once in the categories it was nominated in since those are the only two I really care about.

  10. Chris138
    December 7, 2012

    Not sure how true it is, but I heard a rumor that one of the reasons they are vague about the title of the ‘tunnel song’ is because the filmmakers didn’t have the rights to Bowie’s song at the time of filming. If that’s true then it makes sense.

  11. jen
    December 7, 2012

    I don’t understand the love for this highly overrated film. The only performance of merit is given by Erza Miller. Logan Lerman is lightweight, and he didn’t bring any depth to his performance.

  12. steve50
    December 7, 2012

    “If I could make everyone see one movie this year this would be it.”

    Not necessary to twist my arm – the case and the comments just put it on the must-see list.

    Well done, Chris.

  13. Film Fatale
    December 7, 2012

    Jen, you are so wrong. There’s just no point in a rebuttal. Lerman is devastating and everyone I know — including 75 people of different ages that I assigned to see this film as part of a film club series I host — were moved to tears by his gorgeously open-hearted, melancholy performance. These are people who range from 15 to 65. I also spoke with Lerman last week and he concurred that people have noted how affecting the film has been for them and how special that is. You really are way off — lost.

  14. rufussondheim
    December 7, 2012

    I can understand not liking the film, no film is going to be liked by 100% of the people, and if it is, well then it’s probably not that good (how paradoxical!)

    But I don’t understand saying this movie is inferior to John Hughes movies. Now I like 16 Candles and The Breakfast Club, but this movie has so much more depth in my opinion.

    But there are so many small things in this movie that are done right. There’s a scene where Charlie’s oldest brother comes home from his freshman year of college for a brief Christmas stay. The brother comes in and there is much commotion, but Charlie stands back, almost as if he feels he doesn’t belong. And the brother warmly greets every other member of the family before he gets to Charlie. But the look he gives Charlie is so full of love and sincerity. It’s the most genuine greeting he gives. And it’s so wonderfully touching because it was so clear from earlier in the film that Charlie thinks the world of his older brother. And it all takes place in a matter of seconds, it’s just so well made.

    This is a hard movie to recommend because the central character is a teen and some people will be turned off. It sure isn’t challenging like the Master or important like Lincoln. But I think it’s more heartfelt and real than either of those films.

  15. hadhad83
    December 7, 2012

    Great article and analysis of the movie. Perks is an absolutely great movie and is deserving of award recognition. For a first time director, Chbosky got it mostly right, with all the little elements – dialogue, cinematography, music, etc – all combining to perfectly evoke the proper emotions in each scene. The acting was stellar as well, with Logan Lerman pulling off the delicate task of making Charlie awkward and tragic but still very likable; Ezra Miller breathing life into the wounded but dynamic Patrick; and Emma Watson was very believable as the girl Charlie would fall for, the enigmatic Sam, and proved she can nail parts other than Hermione (after 5 minutes I didn’t even think about it being her).

    The shame here is that Perks will get little award recognition because Summit completely bungled the release of this movie. It didn’t make a lot of money because it was never put in wide release (at it’s peak in only about 1/4 of the theatres of a typical major movie release)- this even though it’s per theatre average was better than most). The movie had an instant fanbase from the book, but many book fans couldn’t see this movie because it wasn’t playing anywhere within many hours of their home. Let’s hope those involved in the awards will give this movie some deserved recognition.

  16. rufussondheim
    December 7, 2012

    This movie will get its due recognition when parents play it for their kids and their kids will love it (although they may get confused at what cassettes are.)

  17. Sam
    December 7, 2012

    Still think the movie was just okay…and that Emma Watson still has a way to go as an actress,BUT, they were making a lot of mix tapes for each other and talking a lot about music…in the 90′s…so I still say,there is no way in hell that any “wallflower” or fan of music worth their salt would not at least recognize Bowie’s voice! No way in hell, that’s just stupid.

  18. Jose P
    December 7, 2012

    I’m glad to see this film hasn’t been forgotten by all. I saw it very late in it’s run, nearing Thanksgiving. But I loved the movie, no it wasn’t a happy movie- but it has a lot to offer. Emma Watson was terrific, I also didn’t think of Hermione Grainger. Ezra Miller was brilliant, but it’s Logan Lerman who gave the top performance of the movie. He led the movie, and he did a phenomenal job at it!

  19. numil
    December 7, 2012

    This piece made me want to watch the film, thank you.

  20. Juan
    December 7, 2012

    Favorite film of the year for me, it was increadible and deserves all the recognition. agree with all you said

  21. rufussondheim
    December 7, 2012

    I’ve thought long and hard about whether they should know David Bowie’s Heroes. Ultimately I decided it really doesn’t matter either way, it’s artistic license and, well, if that’s the biggest criticism if the film than the film must be amazing!

    I don’t think the film is set in any specific year, but the book is set in the Fall of 1991 through the Summer of 1992. (I love how even the author gets the final PSU ranking correct – #3!)

    Now, David Bowie was a big deal up until the mid 80′s. His career had a temporary resurgance with Let’s Dance/China Girl and he did go on a huge stadium tour (The Glass Spider Tour) in, I think 1986. Not to mention Peter Schilling did that semi-cover of A Space Oddity bringing him into the forefront after being down a couple of years.

    But after that he kind of disappeared again and the late 80′s were not kind to his career. The movie took place in Pittsburgh and the only station that probably played his music was the classic rock station. So if these kids didn’t spend any time listening to classic rock, there’s a good chance they might not have known the song.

    Heck, I was born in 1968 and there are still Beatle’s songs I wouldn’t know if you played them for me. So I tend to give these poor saps the benefit of the doubt.

    —-

    One thing I wanted to put into the paragraph about the kids driving through the tunnel but I couldn’t get to fit was that indeed, the incident is a bit of a cliche. But one thing that most movies would have done is introduced a sense of danger into the proceedings somehow, like the driver would have sped up or maybe there would have been an oncoming truck that was swerving. Heck, I don’t know what shittier movies would have done.

    But this movie would have none of that, and the way the film was edited the exit from this scene was very effective as the camera emphasized the lights and grandeur of downtown Pittsburgh, symbolically pointing out that these kids were about to leave the confines of their suburban upbringing and embark into the world. One thing the director did that was subtle (and brilliant) was that before they entered the tunnel, they were in traffic. All through the tunnel, they stayed on close-ups and as they left the tunnel all of the cars had disappeared and they were the only ones on the road. And it felt like the world, and the experience, was theirs alone.

    And that’s one of the main reasons why the film is so great. This is much travelled territory and the Chbosky found so many ways to tell this story with a freshness and originality that’s rather startling. You really have to admire the care and the thought that Chbosky put into what’s clearly a labor of love. His touch is throughout this film and it’s beautiful.

    —–

    And thanks to everyone for your kind words.

  22. K. Bowen
    December 7, 2012

    I really didn’t like this film. And I really disliked the main character. And yes, how did she not know at least it was David Bowie?

  23. Wayman Wong
    December 7, 2012

    If you’re a fan of ”The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and especially Logan Lerman’s Oscar-worthy performance, here’s an interview we did for GoldDerby.

    http://www.goldderby.com/news/3619/the-'perks'-of-being-logan-lerman.html

  24. Wayman Wong
    December 7, 2012

    By the way, ”The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is up for an Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature. It also made the list of Top 10 films by the National Board of Review, and it’s on Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman’s top 10 list, too. And Anthony Breznican (also EW) recently urged Oscar voters to consider ”Wallflower” for Best Picture. …

    So is Summit Entertainment, which makes gazillions off the ”Twilight” franchise, spending anything on an Oscar campaign for ”Wallflower”? Has anyone seen any For Your Consideration ads? Was a screener sent to voters?

    I hope this ”Wallflower” gets a chance to bloom and be seen …

  25. Jose P
    December 8, 2012

    I was just over at Deadline.com, The background IS ads for the Oscar “For Your Consideration”. Categories: Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor/Actress. One can only hope. It’s deserving of something.

  26. Jose P
    December 8, 2012

    Of course, those backgrounds come and go. But the ads are out there.

  27. rufussondheim
    December 8, 2012

    I don’t like the comparisons to Ordinary People, at least as a film. In that, the teen was in a clearly dysfunctional immediate family. That is not the case here, Charlie’s family is extraordinarily loving and is the glue that is keeping him together rather than tearing him apart. Yes, both films have a troubled teen as a focus, but the films play out completely differently and I think it’s, at best, a superficial comparison.

  28. julius
    December 8, 2012

    one of teh best films of the year!
    Loved the performances and the way it was filmed. It was such a great time watching this movie

  29. Mike
    December 8, 2012

    I haven’t seen any For Your Consideration ads for this yet. I’ve been looking for them. I check the ads section on here all of the time.

  30. Mike
    December 8, 2012

    I see the ones on Deadline now. I just hope they aren’t campaigning a bit too late. Still cool they’re at least attempting to get it into the awards race. I think this is the best coming-of-age film since 2004′s BRILLIANT Mean Creek. That’s another one I cannot recommend enough. It’s an under-seen gem.

  31. rufussondheim
    December 8, 2012

    I forgot all about Mean Creek! Great movie. Mike, did you see Mysterious Skin?

  32. December 9, 2012

    Great to see someone else on the Perks bandwagon – we were there a month ago – see my November 4 article here. Perks is likely to clean up on our year end awards, and it should be getting more consideration. And I LOVE the idea of a major wide rerelease campaign in time for the Christmas holidays, although it wouldn’t affect Oscar voters much, I’ll bet as most of them will have probably made up their minds by then.

  33. Mike
    December 9, 2012

    TC, I enjoyed reading your article. I know a Christmas break re-release wouldn’t do much for Oscar voters, but I believe it’s a chance for the film to bring in new viewers and it could successfully do so, IMO. I know a lot of people were busy with school during the period of time this was showing. Many would have a chance to catch up with it having time off from school.

  34. Mike
    December 9, 2012

    rufussondheim, I have seen Mysterious Skin. Great movie! I own it on DVD. Would love to see that and Mean Creek eventually make their way to Blu-ray.

  35. RJ
    December 31, 2012

    Ezra Miller should have received a Best Supporting Actor Nomination for this role!!!!!

  36. January 25, 2013

    In the end, one of best movies this year.

    Every thing in Perks are amazing and ful of light.
    Chbosky did a lovely little masterpiece!

    And Lerman is so brilliant…

    Film Fatale, I do your words mine:

    “Lerman is devastating and everyone I know — including 75 people of different ages that I assigned to see this film as part of a film club series I host — were moved to tears by his gorgeously open-hearted, melancholy performance. These are people who range from 15 to 65. I also spoke with Lerman last week and he concurred that people have noted how affecting the film has been for them and how special that is.”

  37. Nicole
    January 29, 2013

    Did anyone else notice that this guy incorrectly spelled Charie? He’s knowns nothing about The perks of Being a Wallflower. It’s a story that goes beyond the pages of a book and the film of a movie.

  38. Nicole
    January 29, 2013

    *Charlie

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