The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Being white, middle class and in high school during the ‘90s you’d think I would be able to find common ground with the white, middle class ‘90s high school students in The Perks of Being a Wallflower but it couldn’t be further from the truth. This indulgent, facile and deeply irritating coming-of-age drama is little more than a checklist of teen problems expressed with little insight or originality. The teenage years are a complicated period in most people’s lives. First World problems and social insecurities are magnified yet throughout these personal hardships there are defining and unforgettable highs. The Perks of Being a Wallflower predominantly concentrates on the former as privileged rich kids wallow in their problems.

It’s such a self-satisfied film you can almost picture writer-director, Stephen Chbosky, smugly grinning as he writes his trite intellectually bankrupt soundbites ("We accept the love we think we deserve” being one of the many contrived and empty lines littered through the film). It’s like The Wonder Years made by Cameron Crowe yet somehow even worse than that combination implies. Chbosky, wanting to make sure no stone is left unturned, exploits every major anxiety and teenage issue in order to gain the audience’s undeserved sympathy. So we get a whistle-stop tour through suicide, drugs and drink, homosexuality and domestic abuse to name but a few. None of these issues are actually explored, they are mere set dressing for these self-absorbed non-entities to superficially worry about or use as a distasteful empty character quirk.

None of these characters ring true. They are so clearly constructed for story purposes that their problems and personal journeys are utterly vacuous. Logan Lerman plays the titular wallflower, a quiet introvert who is also a talented writer (aren’t they always?) who is basically a projection of the thoughtful and inspired writer. He becomes friends with a group of self-proclaimed misfits who are all oh so quirky and free and super and wonderful and oh please fuck off! Of course they might seem great but they each have their own problems - even genuinely big ones - but they are all treated as cheap and tacky tools.

Having hated everything about this noxious little film I think it only fair that I compliment the performances. Lerman nails the shy sensitivity of his character and Emma Watson is surprisingly competent at delivering an American accent. The most flamboyant and memorable performance, Ezra Miller as Lerman’s gay best friend, is lively but he is also saddled with some of the most cringe worthy dialogue in the entire film.

Chbosky shoots the film with a hollow nostalgia as manufactured as the characters that populate this deeply superficial story. Everything from it’s carefully judged musical choices (The Smiths, Sonic Youth etc.) to film and novel references are incredibly self-aware. It’s strange, the music is at least time appropriate but their inclusion here seems insincere probably because every element of this emotionally fraudulent film is so meticulously managed that it is utterly devoid of a heart, soul or a unique voice.

I’ve owned the novel for several years and it remains unread on my bookshelf and after this risible adaptation that is where it will remain (unless I decide to burn it instead).