|'a quiet and deeply involving film which speaks of the small victories we can each achieve in the face of such isolation and perceived pessimism'|
Before Hipsters were known as Hipsters, there were 1990s teenagers. This all-too common awkward breed discovered life, love and music through a kaleidoscope of competing problems; modern attitudes to all sorts of things (abuse, achievement, families) were changing, the pop culture of the 1980s was dying a chaotic death at the hands of grunge and slackerdom. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
To lead us through this maelstrom, as depicted in The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, director Stephen Chbosky pulls off a conjuring trick. POOF: here is a version of Logan Lerman who can not only act but who actually produces one of the greatest performances of 2012. It's not Chbosky's only success as a magician. Everywhere you look, Wallflower is doing something it shouldn't be. On the left there are jokers in the form of Emma Watson's Sam, a character so far removed from her previous that the name 'Hermoine' will never spring to mind. On the right, clowns; Ezra Miller as Sam's showman half-brother Patrick, another stunner in a three-way focus that has Lerman stuck, happily, in the middle.
Put on screen to do nothing much in particular, these three would be comfortable enough bedfellows to spend two hours with. For his final trick Chbosky rests not on his laurels but pulls out a plot that matters from the pages of his own novel. Wallflower is concerned primarily with the battle against teenage helplessness. Witnessing his sister Candace (Nina Dobrev) being hit by her boyfriend (Nicholas Braun), Charlie (Lerman) can do nothing. Faced with the awful truth revealed in the film's finale, Charlie can do nothing. Stuck loving Sam but needing the comfort of Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman), Charlie can do nothing.
What develops is a quiet and deeply involving film which speaks of the small victories we can each achieve in the face of such isolation and perceived pessimism. Breaking out in to a pre-configured dance routine (not as annoying as it sounds), listening to music on a car stereo whilst driving through a tunnel, LSD-parties where academic futures are acceptable topics. The little battles start to win through, culminating in several points during the final third where Charlie takes charge and Wallflower hints at the better future, when helplessness is overcome for each of us by our close compatriots.
Chbosky ends up with a film that matters partially because it forgets no-one (you won't realise how much you've come to care about Candace and Charlie's family until, well, you do) but mainly because it has that rare knack of treating teenagers like humans too. These aren't cheap protagonists, whose parents are absented in the first act to enable all sorts of hi-jinks. These are people who write letters and read the books Paul Rudd gives them and come to terms with real-life problems and act like someone has put some thought into creating their individualisms. That someone is Stephen Chbosky, and he has made one of the best films of last year.
The Perks Of Being A Wallflower is released on UK DVD and Blu-ray on Monday 11th February 2013.