‘Perks’ combines dynamic cast, terrific screenplay

Call it hipster if you want, but I love The Perks of Being a Wallflower (the book). I suppose that since I didn’t read it until after trailers for Perks (the movie) had started running, I wasn’t quite as excited as some people. Nevertheless, my fondness for Stephen Chbosky’s 1999 epistolary novel about coming of age in the early 90s definitely perked my expectations for the film. I wasn’t disappointed. A cinematic look into the lifestyle and psyche of suburbia’s children, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the story of Charlie (portrayed by Logan Lerman of the Percy Jackson films), a high school freshman and social outcast who befriends older students and step-siblings Patrick (Ezra Miller, City Island , We Need to Talk about Kevin ) and Sam (Emma Watson, the Harry Potter series). Through them, Charlie is inducted into a circle of kids who introduce him to the worlds of indie music and The Rocky Horror Picture Show . Despite his acceptance, Charlie still has to deal with family drama, relationship issues, and unsettling memories of his beloved Aunt Helen (simultaneously sweetly and chillingly played, in glimpses, by Melanie Lynskey). As the film rushes toward its heart-thumping climax, Charlie falls in love, loses and regains friendships, and tries to save people, in both the physical and metaphorical sense. Despite the discrepancies often prevalent in book-to-movie films, The Perks of Being a Wallflower does hold true in most of its characteristics, thanks to excellent direction and writing by none other than Chbosky himself. Although some small parts are altered or left out, and the dialogue is often different, the few changes are for the better: Perks flows significantly more smoothly as it might were it to conform to the novel exactly, and the film still contains the big lines that make the book so impactful, as well as adding characteristics that make it more relevant and enjoyable to today’s teenagers and young adults. As a whole, Chbosky’s screenplay is terrific: hilarious quips contrast with heartbreaking, emotional moments, joyous love clashes with horrific realization, and heartbreak meets friendship in ways that are wholly effective in the context, whereas in other films they might come across as cheesy. The fact that many of the same themes that made the novel so emotionally challenging but ultimately rewarding, and that led some to discount it – drug use, child abuse, sex, sexuality, suicide, and isolation – also bolster Perks ’ quality and impact. Chbosky’s deep and representative characters are lit charmingly and convincingly by the three main actors. As Patrick, Miller shines, coming across as both utterly charming and often depressed without being remotely corny; as Charlie, Lerman comes out of his Percy Jackson shadow to prove that a quiet character really can be the loudest of all; and, most prominently, as Sam, Emma Watson gives (I’m sure I’ll get egged by all those Harry Potter die-hards for saying this) her best performance EVER . She succeeds in casting Sam as a realistic, wholly lovable character, in a performance that really should earn her at least an Oscar nomination. The trio is backed by an all-star supporting cast that includes the likes of Paul Rudd, Mae Whitman, Dylan McDermott, Kate Walsh, Johnny Simmons, Nina Dobrev, and Joan Cusack – all of whom are exceedingly enjoyable in their roles. As if the writing and direction (and excellent production and cinematography) weren’t enough, Perks also has an excellent soundtrack that fits the film’s time period, characters, and emotional sways, including tracks by the likes of David Bowie, Sonic Youth, The Smiths, New Order, Cocteau Twins, XTC, and Dexy’s Midnight Runners (and I’ve inevitably had “Come On Eileen” jammed on repeat in my head ever since). Seriously – who could ask of a better mix of late 80s indie rock/pop and one awesome Bowie song? The Perks of Being a Wallflower is brought to you by Mr. Mudd Productions, the same folks that brought you Juno . And with Perks , Mudd have produced a film that is not only better than Juno, but that could be just as successful and could similarly be that film for a new generation of indie movie fans. Despite the fact that it does somewhat pander to the teenage/young adult audience, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the best thing I’ve seen on the big screen (or its small screen counterpart) in a long, long time. In short, to borrow from Charlie’s most famous line, by the end of Perks , you’ll feel infinite. Overall rating: 9.5/10