Coming of age movies are incredibly difficult to get right. The film and TV marketplace is flooded with sappy and self-important stories of high school drama, angst, and ennui, and so when something comes along that captures this universally formative period in such a raw and honest way, it’s almost hard to believe it exists. However, writer/director Stephen Chbosky’s adaptation of his own novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of those rare gems of the coming of age genre that just “gets it,” and with a sharp script, three-dimensional characters, and emotionally honest performances, the film is destined to speak to audiences for generations to come. Hit the jump for our review of The Perks of Being a Wallflower on Blu-ray.
When reading the simple logline for The Perks of Being a Wallflower, it appears to be just another melodramatic teen drama where high school is portrayed as the most important period in life ever. This could not be further from the truth, as Chbosky’s understated direction and smart screenplay drive an engaging and above all honest story about a teenager named Charlie (Logan Lerman). When we first meet Charlie, it’s made clear that he is a shy kid who is nervous about starting his first year of high school. Charlie is incredibly smart, but we come to understand that he has had some emotional problems in the past, and he doesn’t have many friends. He meets two seniors, Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller), and soon thereafter is brought into their close-knit group.
The rest of the story unfolds throughout the school year, as Charlie develops a crush on Sam and learns that Patrick is having a secret affair with the high school football star. The genius of the film is not in its plot, but how these series of seemingly innocuous situations (relationships, first loves, friendships) are portrayed. Chbosky tackles some incredibly tough issues head-on, and he never talks down to the audience or goes for the cheap tearjerking moment. These feel like real people, and they’re brought to life excellently by the young ensemble cast. Miller is a force of nature as the over-the-top Patrick, and Watson shines as the antithesis of the “manic pixie dream girl” stereotype. But it’s Lerman who’s the standout, bringing Charlie to life with a nuanced and sensitive performance that never feels false.
In a sea of hammy coming of age movies and TV shows, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a gem that’s destined to have a long shelf life with the likes of The Breakfast Club and even Friday Night Lights. Though on the surface the premise seems trite, Chbosky turns out a touching, charming, and at times dark portrait of teenage life that feels universally relatable.
The Blu-ray is presented in 1.78:1 1080p HD, and the transfer holds up pretty well. Chbosky purposefully gives the picture a raw quality (this fits nicely with the period in which the story takes place), so a few scenes may seem a tad grainy but this is how the film was projected in theaters. The audio is swell, presented in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The film’s fantastic soundtrack comes in crisp and clear and the dialogue is sharp.
Though the Blu-ray sadly lacks any kind of lengthy documentary or in-depth look behind-the-scenes, it does include some fascinating extras. “Best Summer Ever” is a short 5-minute featurette that features brief interviews with Chbosky and the cast. It’s interesting to hear the cast talk about how closely they bonded during the shoot (something Chbosky told them would happen), and it’s also great to hear Chbosky discuss the difficulty of bringing his highly personal book to the screen.
The disc also comes with two audio commentaries. One is only Chbosky, and it’s a fantastic insight into Chbosky’s life and how it relates to the film. The director talks about the aspects of his own life that inspired the events of the book/movie, and while it’s less focused on the technical aspects of the film than most director commentaries, it’s well worth hearing.
The other audio commentary features Chbosky and his cast, Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Johnny Simmons, Mae Whitman, and Erin Wilhelm. The actors talk about the filming process and how important it was for them to do the roles justice, and Chbosky again tells more anecdotes about his life (sometimes they’re the same stories from the other commentary). It’s not as interesting as the other commentary, but it’s still worth a listen.
The other extras on the disc include a collection of deleted scenes and a collection of dallies, both of which come with optional commentary by Chbosky. 12 deleted scenes are included, some of which are simply alternate takes of the scenes that made it into the movie. Of particular note is another scene that takes place after the film’s abortion, and it’s a touching moment between the two characters that fans of the book should find interesting. The dailies are also a nice touch, as fans get a peek at some rough footage of various scenes from the film.
Though the extras are nothing mind-blowing, the audio commentaries prove fruitful for fans of the book and/or the movie and the film itself is an absolute treasure. Buy it, watch it, share it with reluctant friends.