Much of the hype and press coverage on “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” will focus on Emma Watson, who has her first sizable post-"Harry Potter" role here as a slightly wild high school senior. (She was in last year’s “My Week with Marilyn,” but if you blinked, you likely missed her.)
The young British star is talented and engaging enough and manages a passable American accent in this appealing coming-of-age comedy, but the real show stealer in “Perks” is Ezra Miller. He’s a sharp-faced, 19-year old actor who has already impressed in "City Island," "Another Happy Day" and "We Need To Talk About Kevin." Playing a disaffected teen who is gay and secretly involved with a high school football star, he radiates the same fierce intelligence and dark humor that one saw in a young Richard Dreyfuss or Dustin Hoffman, whom he vaguely resembles.
Neither of them is the movie’s main character. “Perks’” protagonist is Charlie (Logan Lerman), a shy but intelligent youth who, at the film’s start, is beginning ninth grade after having suffered some sort of breakdown over the summer. He’s feeling emotionally fragile, and it doesn’t help that his parents (Dylan McDermott and Kate Walsh) keep watching him closely for signs of a relapse.
As he makes friends with step siblings Patrick (Miller) and Sam (Watson), who are part of an older crowd, i.e. seniors, with whom Charlie starts hanging, our young hero is exposed to sex, drugs, mix tapes and midnight showings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” How he navigates all of this, along with repeated troubling flashbacks involving a beloved aunt who died (Melanie Lynskey), makes for a compelling and believable story.
Director and screenwriter Stephen Chbosky (TV’s "Jericho") based “Perks” on his own popular 1999 novel of the same name. The movie succeeds best in sympathetically portraying its young characters, giving them far more depth than the stereotypes seen in most teen movies.
These are smart, though at times troubled, kids. They have the usual anxieties about sex, college, and what comes next. Charlie is depicted as having an extra dose of anxiety because of something that happened to him in his past. It’s this last point that, when revealed, sends the movie into the realm of cliché, relying as it does on a plot device that is an overused storytelling crutch.
“Perks” is for adolescents looking for a fairly honest film about themselves and what it’s really like to be 15 or 16 and trying to find your way toward adulthood. Adults will find it watchable and engrossing until, well, about two-thirds of the way through when one’s patience with teen angst wears thin. Been there, done that — no need to relive it.