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Film review: The Perks Of Being A Wallflower

DESPITE honourable aspirations, I can’t help wondering how this is going to play with its target audience. Will they embrace it as a celebration and consolation for young misfits, or regard it as a quaintly period picture? The Perks Of Being A Wallflower is set 20 years ago, but it might as well be the bronze age to some, given its lack of texting, tweeting and useful internet access.

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower (12A)

Director: Stephen Chbosky

Running time: 103 minutes

* * *

Charlie (Logan Lerman from Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief) is a depressed teen with a full dance card of reasons. He’s either ignored or bullied at school, and has no-one to confide in since his best friend committed suicide earlier in the year. Meanwhile, flashbacks hint that he has other issues rooted in the death of an aunt (Melanie Lynskey).

Charlie has enough anguish to fill both sides of a Nick Drake album, which is useful because music is important to Perks. Mixtapes are used as character shorthand, and when Charlie falls into conversation with senior pupils and step-siblings Sam and Patrick, the first points he earns are when he shyly confesses to having discovered The Smiths. “Best breakup band ever,” enthuses Sam (Emma Watson) and Charlie is immediately smitten with someone other than Morrissey. Is it too pedantic to wonder why these music obsessives can’t identify David Bowie’s angst anthem Heroes, not to mention a criminal record error that places Pavement on the soundtrack at least two years too early?

In her first co-starring role since Harry Potter and The Series That Would Not Die, Emma Watson manages a decent American accent and the compassionate air of a girl who pats sick donkeys, although she’s still a bit crisp for a messed-up Pittsburg teen. In any case, both she and Lerman are comprehensively outgunned by Ezra Miller from We Need To Talk About Kevin. True enough, he has the showiest role, playing a gay teen who makes Alan Carr look recessive; but Miller takes this compulsive showboating and smartly spins it as a vulnerability.

The film was directed and adapted by Stephen Chbosky from his own book – and it shows. Chbosky nails the textures of teenage gloom; but he needs to be more ruthless about editing a novel into a 103- minute movie. Supporting characters – an abusive boyfriend with a ponytail, a kindly English teacher, a rich shoplifter – should have been developed more or dropped altogether, with Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman) especially ill-served as a motormouthed goth feminist who dates Charlie because he can’t think how to turn her down. She showcases Charlie’s spineless side, but painting her as a Foghorn Leghorn in a dress seems unnecessarily cruel.

Worst of all, a crucial plot point arrives in a last minute burst, a delivery that is rushed, messy and oddly weightless despite the emotional freight it carries. «

On general release from Friday

 

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