The Perks of Being a Wallflower is unique in that it demands a second viewing, despite being a simple, minimalist narrative built more on nuances and the passage of time than a mind trip piece like Donnie Darko.
It starts at a deliberately slow pace, telling of a young man entering high school shy and friendless, and eventually becomes accepted into a hip and interesting social circle. Some of it feels a little too on the Juno side, constantly name-dropping “cool” bands as an initial means to bring the characters together. While this plot device gets old fast, it does feel authentic albeit tiring by the end. We get it, you make each other mix tapes.
What the film does very well is represent the frustrations of ourselves, our loved ones, and the choices we make. The characters fight, experiment with drugs, and fall in love with the wrong people. There is a powerful quote that, when it comes to romance, “we accept what we think we deserve.”
Flashes like this are when the movie works at its best; at its core, it is really a tragic story, and these people don’t have any meaning in their lives beyond that which they create for themselves. We see these people as fully developed, flawed human beings, whose past actions shape their behavior in the present.
A disturbing revelation at the end explains the protagonist (excellently played by newcomer Logan Lerman) and the weight he has carried for years. Even before his past is explained, his acting choices make it clear that there is something terribly wrong. We also get superb and well-rounded performances from Emma Watson (despite her so-so American accent) and Ezra Miller as the two mentor figures who take Lerman’s character in.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a powerful existentialist look at the adolescent experience. It has a slow start and falls into some high school movie cliche, but the insight it provides is unmatched by most other films about youth.