Let me make one thing clear. Full enjoyment of Stephen Chbosky’s cinematic adaptation of The Perks of Being a Wallflower is completely reliant on the suspension of disbelief. Despite what some reviewers seem to be asserting, an accurate portrayal of the blossoming of the life of an awkward and crippling shy teenager this isn’t. This is a coming-of-age drama thickly layered in saccharine Hollywood optimism, but then again this needn’t be a bad thing. The narrative is certainly nothing new, with Logan Lerman playing the painfully reclusive yet deeply intelligent Charlie, a character who borders on annoying in his own naivety, as he enters his first year of high school. Inevitably struggling to meet friends, it falls to the older duo of Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller) to take him under their wing, thus signalling the start of a coming-of-age drama that ultimately should do little to surprise the audience.
The main thread of the story is a fairly standard tale of initially unrequited love between Lerman and Watson, but it doesn’t really take a genius to work out how it’s all going to end up. The depiction of this puerile discovery of love is, if I’m entirely honest, fairly by-the-numbers but there is something undeniably touching within Lerman’s performance that manages to make the inherent soppiness of it all bearable. Maybe it’s the great soundtrack, with likes of The Smiths, David Bowie and New Order all making an appearance, but rather than wretch at trials and tribulations of young people in love, it actually made me feel a little warm inside. I must be getting soft.
Bubbling underneath there’s always a sense of uneasiness, with the topics of homophobia, mental illness and child abuse all touched on in a surprisingly sensitive manner refusing to become overbearing as could so easily have been the case. Indeed, in many parts, the script is genuinely funny, with the juxtaposition of fairly heavy subject matter not seeming tacked-on. The focus was undoubtedly on Watson in her first major role post-Hermione, but it’s this dichotomy between the saccharine and maudlin that brings out the best in Miller. In the role of Patrick, he brings a superb comedic performance underpinned by a certain melancholy that is unavoidable when assuming the role of a young gay man.
Sure there are numerous occasions where actions or reactions aren’t the most realistic, but to question realism and focus on these slight inaccuracies is to miss the point. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, is, at its heart, a sensitive, often amusing and engaging piece of cinema that for all of its teeth-melting sugariness and misty-eyed romanticism undoubtedly manages to charm.