For about a decade, Emma Watson was a lucky charm, with the highest average box-office gross of any actor in the world (higher even than her “Harry Potter” co-star Daniel Radcliffe, who made a few little-seen indies between blockbusters). Watson's new coming-of-age flick “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is too modest to become a worldwide phenomenon, but sensitive teens and their older kin who pine for the '90s may want to take it for a spin on the dance floor.
Once again, Watson plays a bright star atop a triangle that also includes a wizard and a woebegone sidekick. She plays Sam, who is dating a college student and aching to leave Pittsburgh behind. The free spirit is her stepbrother, Patrick (Ezra Miller), the most flamboyant boy at their suburban high school. The sad tag-along is freshman Charlie (Logan Lerman), a wannabe writer whose letters to an imaginary friend comprise the source novel by director Stephen Chbosky.
Patrick pronounces Charlie an enlightened wallflower and adopts him into a social circle of oddballs who are obsessed with “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and the mope-rock band the Smiths.
Charlie's unrequited crush on Sam, his apprenticeship with a kindly English teacher (Paul Rudd) and his drug-induced freakouts are standard ingredients in this kind of fortified after-school special. But Chbosky includes a relatively provocative subplot about Patrick's secret affair with a star football player (Johnny Simmons) and questionably deviates from his novel to give Charlie a backstory about molestation to complement the off-screen suicide that is supposed to explain his introversion. And there's some welcome comic relief when Charlie is sucked into a suffocating relationship with an aggressive goth (scene stealer Mae Whitman).
Like hipsters everywhere, the characters spend too much time congratulating each other on their good taste and nonconformity. Charlie and Patrick would be insufferable if played by lesser actors, but Lermen (“3:10 to Yuma”) is angelically spacey, and Miller (“We Need to Talk About Kevin”) is electric. Watson doesn't fare as well, as her role is underwritten and her American accent is iffy. And Chbosky is a freshman director who hasn't developed his own identity.
In real life, one of the few perks of being of a wallflower is the sunlight of literature, movies and music that can creep into the shadows. In the right soil, ingredients like this laudable film could be a seed for something greater.
'THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER'
Two and a half stars out of four • Rating PG-13 • Run time 1:43 • Content Mature themes, drug and alcohol use and sexual references