Making a bad teen movie is easy to do. We’ve all seen the silly sex comedies, lame-brained slashers and overly earnest coming of age dramas.
Making a good teen movie isn’t so easy. Which is one good reason to appreciate this weekend’s limited release of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” written and directed by Stephen Chbosky and adapted from his popular 1999 book of the same name.
Starring up and coming actors Logan Lerman (“Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief”) and Ezra Miller (“We Need to Talk About Kevin”) alongside “Harry Potter” favorite Emma Watson in her first American role, the film follows smart, shy high school freshman Charlie (Lerman) through an eventful school year. He’s mentored by an inspiring English teacher (Paul Rudd, in a smallish role) and grows close with two quirky seniors and step-siblings, Patrick (Miller) and Sam (Watson), finding acceptance in their offbeat group of friends.
We think it’s worth a look in theaters, and here are five reasons why:
1) Emma Watson with an American accent
Little Hermione Granger is all grown up and ready to prove herself in a completely different kind of role. American teen Sam is a variation on the “manic pixie dream girl” that’s invaded American indie romances ever since Natalie Portman’s performance in “Garden State.” Except while Sam may be a pixie, and definitely a dream girl, she’s never manic. She’s relaxed, accepting, a beautiful girl with self-esteem issues and bad taste in boys. Watson’s credible performance in the role isn’t going to make people forget Hermione, but it should help audiences see the actress who played her in a new light.
2) Logan Lerman and Ezra Miller look like future stars in the making
Lerman has been a working child actor for years now — you may remember him as the younger half of The WB’s short-lived but much-loved “Jack & Bobby,” as Christian Bale’s son in “3:10 to Yuma” or as a young Mel Gibson in “What Women Want” — but he hasn’t quite found his big break. His star turns in “Percy Jackson” and last year’s “The Three Musketeers” got lost in disappointing box office. “Perks” is a much better showcase for his skills, his innocent, open face making it impossible for the audience not to root for Charlie to overcome his social anxieties.
Miller is even more of a scene-stealer as the flamboyant and fiercely original Patrick. He has a shorter resume than Lerman but between his work as Ellen Barkin’s snarky drug-addicted son in “Another Happy Day,” Tilda Swinton’s pathological offspring in “We Need To Talk About Kevin” and his freewheeling and energetic performance in “Perks,” he’s already displayed remarkable range.
3) A lot of your favorite TV stars do good work in supporting roles
Mae Whitman (“Parenthood”), Nina Dobrev (“The Vampire Diaries”), Kate Walsh (“Private Practice”), Dylan McDermott (“American Horror Story”), Nicholas Braun (“10 Things I Hate About You”) and Melanie Lynskey (“Two and a Half Men”) all have pivotal supporting roles. Whitman’s turn as Watson’s punk rock pal may remind you of a hipper version of her memorable role as Bland Ann Veal on “Arrested Development,” while McDermott gets several crack one-liners to show off the sense of humor many thought his “Horror Story” character could’ve used.
4) It’s almost like “Glee” possessed by the spirit of indie rock
Now, don’t get the wrong idea on this one. None of the characters burst into song — although they do regularly participate in interactive screenings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (Miller is a great Frank-N-Furter). Still, “Wallflower” shares much of “Glee’s” spirit of celebrating outcasts and creatively inclined teenagers. Imagine what a difference it would make if the teens on “Glee” worshipped David Bowie instead of Katy Perry, and you’ll start to see how “Perks” tackles similar themes from a different angle.
5) Stephen Chobsky nails what it feels like to be young
This is Chobsky’s directorial debut and although it’s not the most visually polished or narratively inventive movie around, it’s a solid and deeply felt effort. His love of the characters shines through every scene, as does his understanding of that fleeting feeling of being young. Charlie has a lot of problems to struggle with, and it’s not until the last act that we understand how deeply he’s been scarred by the past, but “Perks” reminds us that the good moments in life are the ones we really need to hang on to.
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is now playing in limited release and expands to additional cities next week. Watch the trailer below: