Hermione's the new Hepburn! In her first starring role since Harry Potter, a dazzling Emma Watson has echoes of a big-screen legend
23:11 GMT, 27 September 2012
00:07 GMT, 28 September 2012
This is, quite simply, one of the best coming-of-age films ever made. No film-maker has captured with more sensitivity the hell and heaven of being a teenager. It’s sweet but not sickly, cute but not sentimental.
The movie contains an Oscar-quality performance by Emma Watson and an astute one by Logan Lerman as the film’s 15-year-old hero, Charlie. I hope they are remembered when the awards season comes around.
Writer-director Stephen Chbosky has adapted his own ‘young adult’ novel from 1999 with remarkable skill. For many teenagers, I’m sure it will be a landmark movie in their emotional development. But it will also strike chords of memory with many who are way older than the target demographic.
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Teenage tribulations: The Perks of Being a Wallflower, starring Emma Watson as Sam and Logan Lerman as Charlie, is one of the best coming-of-age films ever made
The story is set in the early Nineties, when The Smiths were cool, David Bowie’s Heroes was exotic, and the ultimate thrill for a teenager was to dress up and mime along to The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Charlie (Lerman), a 15-year-old with an initially unexplained history of psychiatric illness, goes to a new school, where he conspicuously fails to fit in. He’s a wallflower, on the sidelines, observing but never participating.
The first friend he makes is — depressingly — his English teacher, played with marvellous sensitivity by Paul Rudd, taking a welcome rest from gross-out comedies and reminding us what an intelligent actor he can be.
Set in the Nineties: Lerman plays a 15-year-old at a new school who conspicuously fails to fit in until he is introduced to Watson who he falls hopelessly in love with
But then shy, unassuming Charlie is
adopted as a friend by the school’s only ‘out’ gay, Patrick (beautifully
played with ebullience and depth by Ezra Miller), who recognises a
fellow outcast. Patrick introduces Charlie to his pretty stepsister, Sam
Charlie falls hopelessly in love with Sam, but she’s at least two years older than him, and going out with a young man who’s at college.
A revelation: The most heavy lifting acting-wise is done by Watson whose experience as a child star has done her the world of good
So Charlie settles for having an
unreciprocated crush until . . . well, I won’t spoil the story. Suffice
it to say that the film delivers on why Charlie has psychiatric
But the aspect
that makes the film memorable is the relationship that develops between
Charlie and Sam — one of the most touching I have seen on screen.
Lerman — unrecognisable from the boy who
delivered lacklustre leading performances in The Three Musketeers 3D
and Percy Jackson And The Lightning Thief — plays his part well, and
makes something sweet out of what could have been an infuriatingly
But most of the heavy lifting,
acting-wise, is done by Emma Watson, whose experience as a child star
has done her the world of good. Although the Harry Potter films
suggested she had the makings of a fine actress, she could be uneven
from scene to scene and was visibly learning her craft; this is a major
leap forward in terms of quality and consistency.
Here she’s a revelation, with the transparency and power of a young Kate Winslet. She has learned not to do too much, but just be. And she has the gamine beauty of the young Audrey Hepburn. If she were not so well-known already, I would be hailing this as a star-making performance.
The film isn’t flawless. It’s light on story, and hints at some things it doesn’t follow through, notably Sam’s bulimia. One of the bravest elements in the novel, concerning an abortion, has been excluded — presumably to placate Middle America. However, it’s no exaggeration to say that this is The Catcher In The Rye for a later generation. There are many sharp lines, most of them given to Patrick as he challenges his friends to dislike him.
And there’s a clever little section that shows how easy it is to drift into the wrong relationship merely because it would seem churlish to refuse. The movie covers cliched topics such as homophobia, drugs, bereavement and abuse, yet makes them all feel freshly observed. Its effortless humanity reminded me a lot of Cameron Crowe’s earliest movies, especially Singles, Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous.
Since Potter: It is Watson's first starring role since the Harry Potter series in which she played Hermione Granger alongside Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley, left, and Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter, right
The emotional honesty is very rare in any form of cinema, let alone the traditionally dumbed-down genre of high school movies. The film visits dark areas of life, yet there’s a joy in it which is uplifting. It captures the moment in our lives when anything and everything seemed possible.
I hope it will receive the appreciation it merits. It deserves to be regarded as a modern classic.
The Perks Of Being A Wallflower is released on Wednesday, October 3.
Now watch the official trailer for The Perks Of Being A Wallflower