By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
Either Pittsburgh is a tough place to go to school, or it’s a complete coincidence that the hand-wringing issue picture “Won’t Back Down” and the simpering high-school melodrama “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” are opening on the same day.
I’m going with the coincidence theory. But if you’re a Pittsburgh grad, congratulations on surviving.
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is adapted from a successful 1995 novel by Stephen Chbosky, who also directed the movie. It’s an annoying movie on many levels, so let’s start picking them off.
Chbosky’s hero is a winsome, quiet freshman named Charlie (played by Logan Lerman, lately seen in “Percy Jackson &the Olympians”). Charlie has a deep dark secret, and because the movie is a tease, we won’t be allowed to learn it until the late going.
A misfit himself, Charlie is adopted by misfits from the senior class: the flamboyant Patrick (Ezra Miller) and cynical Sam (“Harry Potter” starlet Emma Watson). Sam has made bad choices with boys, and she seems out of reach for Charlie, as much as he adores her.
Charlie can’t relate to his parents. There’s one hip/cool teacher (Paul Rudd) at school, who feeds Charlie a steady stream of the exact books every high school kid should read: “The Catcher in the Rye,” “On the Road,” “A Separate Peace.”
We kill a year at school with this group, during which time the usual teen anxieties are aired. I can’t tell you which year, because the movie seems to exist in a vague nontime — kind of present day, kind of late ’80s, or something on either side of that.
So the music leans heavily on David Bowie’s “Heroes” and references to the Smiths, and the kids still go to midnight screenings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” to derive their indie cred. But it might be happening in the 21st century. Or not.
Maybe it’s all right with the target audience that the cultural references here are closer to my high-school years than to the age of the Millennials. But it still seems odd.
The activities of these youths did not have to be blazingly original to work on screen, but Chbolsky doesn’t have the kind of filmmaking flair that would make that come to life.
The main trio is well-acted, with Ezra Miller bringing authentic charisma to his bigger-than-life role, and Emma Watson indicating her appeal beyond “Potter.”
They don’t seem much like wallflowers. But then not much rings true about this warmed-over offering.
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” (1 star)
Author Stephen Chbosky directs this adaptation of his novel, which tells of a high-school year for a misfit freshman (Logan Lerman) in Pittsburgh. Old songs and old problems don’t make for a good movie, although Emma Watson and Ezra Miller give nice performances.
Rated: PG-13 for language, subject matter.
Showing: Harvard Exit.