Review: 'Perks' has some charm and innocence
PG-13 for mature thematic material, drug and alcohol use, sexual content including references, and a fight — all involving teens; 3 1⁄2 (out of 4)
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” based on the beloved young-adult epistolary novel by Pittsburgh native Steven Chbosky, is a pitch-perfect take on the teen angst/teen misfit genre.
This is not an easy task. These movies tend to feature young, fresh faces, few stars and low budgets. They're often confused with sappy coming-of-age tales and the resilient-as-a-cockroach teen sex comedy, but can overlap with either. Even the best-received attempts tend to be manipulating or emotionally inert, and feature mangled dialogue for teen characters that sounds like it has been chewed on by multiple sets of faulty translation software, such as “Easy A” (2010) and “Juno” (2007). In fact, it's been pretty slim pickings since 2001, when the superb “Ghost World” and “Donnie Darko” came out.
Set in the mid-'80s middle-class suburban Pittsburgh, “Perks” revolves around Charlie (Logan Lerman), a reclusive, introverted kid getting ready for his first day of high school, and the inevitable avalanche of casual cruelties that typically befall the low man on the social totem pole. He knows he can expect little sympathy for his condition, which includes recent stay in a psychiatric hospital after the suicide of his best and only friend. Becoming an ignored wallflower is really the best-case scenario.
Slowly, haltingly, he begins to make connections. First, with an English teacher (Paul Rudd), who spots his writing talent and supplies him with interesting unassigned books to read. Then, he notices a flamboyant, extroverted senior, Patrick (Ezra Miller), in shop class, where the teacher (Pittsburgh-based special-effects guru Tom Savini) insists on calling him “Nothing.” Charlie takes a risk and sits next to Patrick at a football game, where they're joined by his stunning step-sister Sam (Emma Watson). They're cheering for Brad (Johnny Simmons), the quarterback and Patrick's secret boyfriend.
Patrick and Sam take a liking to the smart, low-key freshman.
“Welcome to the Island of Misfit Toys,” says Sam.
Soon, he's introduced to their circle of friends — a stoner dude, shoplifting goth girl and a motor-mouthed punk rocker named Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman), who complicates Charlie's obvious infatuation with Sam.
Much (adult) attention will go towards the preponderance of “hot-button issues” in “Perks,” including drug use, homosexuality, mental illness, suicide and abusive relationships.
Yet, there's also kind of romantic, charming innocence to it, as isolated outcasts from one of the last pre-Internet generations struggle to find each other through making mixtapes, music fanzines and midnight screenings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” The film's late-'80s setting is soft-pedaled almost everywhere — not everyone's wearing Cosby sweaters, for instance — but “Perks” goes hard on the period soundtrack, adding audio drama via David Bowie, Nick Drake, The Smiths and Dexys Midnight Runners.
The young cast is exceptionally strong. In particular, Lerman projects both vulnerability and a self-possession that easily captures one's sympathy, and the manic Miller delivers the laugh lines with euphoric brio.
Watson, in her first major post-Harry Potter role, careens a little close to the much-mocked “manic pixie dream girl” that only exists in male movie writers' imaginations — yet steers clear, coming off as slightly damaged and real.
Above all, “Perks” is about the peculiar intensity of friendships made in high school, but also their fragility.
At times, it's almost too perfect a fantasy for anyone who felt like a misfit in high school — which, at times, includes pretty much everyone.
Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7901.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Polamalu could be next in long line of Steelers greats given unceremonial exit
- Mother, baby found dead in Millvale apartment
- Weather continues to cause crashes, public transportation delays
- Over the falls — Cucumber Falls that is — go 3 kayakers in Ohiopyle
- Wolf reverses Corbett, says deal between Highmark, UPMC doesn’t limit continuity of care to very ill
- Rossi: Kang would benefit from less attention
- Pirates pitcher Locke fighting for 5th spot in starting rotation
- Penguins’ Lovejoy embracing defensive pairing with Pouliot
- Loose barges on Monongahela River highlight woes of winter’s end
- Alcoa may close or sell some aluminum plants to cut costs
- Experts: Clinton took dangerous path with email system