It’s hard to take Bret Easton Ellis seriously these days. Once a provocative, hugely talented writer, the American Psycho author now spends his days writing off decades’ worth of films that don’t prescribe to his hilariously general ‘Empire’ theory, ranting about modern portrayals of homosexuality and spending months fantasy-casting a 50 Shades of Grey movie – even though he’d already been passed over for the screenwriting job.
But he’s right about one thing – Ezra Miller does rock. The 20-year-old, who was fantastically loathsome in last year’s We Need to Talk about Kevin, steals the show in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky’s adaptation of his own 1999 novel. Miller plays Patrick, a flamboyant and arch senior at the suburban Pittsburgh high-school where the titular wallflower Charlie (Logan Lerman) struggles with introversion, grief and mental illness in a bid to find himself.
Lerman impresses in a far meatier role than he was afforded in Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief and The Three Musketeers, with Mae Whitman as reliably dry as ever and Emma Watson acquitting herself well in her first post-Potter role, though her character Sam is slightly too ‘manic pixie dream girl’ (http://www.avclub.com/articles/my-year-of-flops-case-file-1-elizabethtown-the-bat,15577/) to fully convince. Miller, however, is Chbosky’s trump card, with a charismatic and sensitive take on nascent teen homosexuality. His presence remains mesmeric even when the threadbare plot lapses into directionless window-dressing. The sky’s the limit for Miller if he makes the right career choices in his 20s.
Aside from the performances – with Paul Rudd, Kate Walsh and Dylan McDermott all in fine form in their necessarily sidelined adult roles – it’s disappointing to conclude that a story with such potential resonance so often feels inert and laboured. Chbosky’s grasp of tone is sometimes assured, with the Rocky Horror set-pieces (the group are avid fans), and with romantic and comedic moments being rather effective. Yet there’s a darkness to this story that’s hinted at but not satisfyingly explored. Revelations of past traumas in the lives of Charlie and Sam are so protracted and clumsily handled that their eventual announcements lack the impact they should. And as cool as the late-80s soundtrack is, there’s a nagging sense that Perks… just might be pulling a Juno and letting the songs do the work that the story should.
This, however, remains a coming-of-age story and has enough heart and humour to find a place in the hearts of the awkward teens of today, as well as the now grown who found the transition from childhood to adulthood just as difficult, being eased by firm friends, as does Charlie. It might not always strike the right note or surprise you as much as it hopes to, but with unashamed sincerity, a talented young cast and the brilliant Miller, The Perks of Being a Wallflower really only wants to tell you that everything is going to be ok. And when teenage audiences are being targeted with Step Up sequels and the moronic Project X, that’s commendable.
**Review by Lewis Bazley**