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Tuesday 2 September 2014

Sensitivity, restraint in bittersweet tale

THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER (12)

Published 10/10/2012 | 12:33

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The agonies and ecstasies of youth are beautifully encapsulated in The Perks Of Being A Wallflower.

THE AGONIES and ecstasies of youth are beautifully encapsulated in writer-director Stephen Chbosky's exquisite adaptation of his own critically adored novel.

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Set in early 1990s Pittsburgh, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower is a bittersweet anthem to emotionally damaged youth. Fluffiness and mawkish sentimentality, which are staples of the genre, are absent from Chbosky's cinematic lexicon.

Instead, he spares his characters neither blushes nor pain, venturing into some incredibly dark recesses of the human experience with sensitivity and restraint.

He accomplishes this impressive feat without sacrificing the biting humour of his book, condensing the tome into a compact running time that flies by in a blur of laughter and gut-wrenching despair.

Charlie (Logan Lerman) is devastated by the suicide of his good friend Michael and the senseless tragedy haunts the sensitive teenager as a new term beckons. "Tomorrow is my first day of high school ever and I have to turn things around," he tells us in heartfelt voiceover.

The lad's father (Dylan McDermott) and mother (Kate Walsh) hope Charlie will blossom in higher education but, as usual, their boy remains on the sidelines as a silent observer to the rituals of school life while classmates grasp every opportunity thrust at them.

The only person who seems to notice Charlie is English teacher Mr Anderson (Paul Rudd), who recognises a kindred spirit and supplies the youngster with a steady supply of extra-curricular reading.

During an American football match, Charlie plucks up the courage to chat to openly gay classmate Patrick (Ezra Miller). In turn, he introduces Charlie to his free-spirited step-sister, Sam (Emma Watson).

At a party, she learns of Michael's suicide - "I kind of wished he left a note," whimpers Charlie - and Sam joins forces with Patrick to bring the shy newcomer out of his shell.

Reluctantly, Charlie begins to take the terrifying leaps of faith of every teenager on the cusp of adulthood. "Welcome to the island of misfit toys," grins Sam warmly.

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower is a celebration of those perilous years when childhood innocence is shattered to smithereens and young men and women nervously forge new paths that will determine the rest of their lives.

Chbosky elicits strong performances from his leads. Lerman is mesmerising as the loner who is stunned that anyone would waste their time befriending him. "I didn't think anyone noticed me," he nervously confides.

Watson makes confident strides away from her signature role as Hermione in the Harry Potter series, replete with a solid American accent, and Miller banishes memories of his chilling turn in We Need To Talk About Kevin, exuding wit and charm as the class clown who attempts to rise above taunts about his sexuality.

A rousing soundtrack of David Bowie and Dexy's Midnight Runners draws a nostalgic smile to offset the copious tears.

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