Movie Reviews: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

What Richard Did ★★★★

Movie Reviews: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Richard Karlsen (Jack Reynor), the handsome young hero of Lenny Abrahamson’s What Richard Did (15A), is too good to be true. A schools rugby captain and the alpha male of his peer group in leafy south County Dublin, Richard is thoughtful and sensitive, “the male equivalent,” as one of his friends says, “of the Rose of fucking Tralee”.

Loosely based on Kevin Power’s novel Bad Day in Blackrock (2008), which was inspired by the media coverage of the brutal killing of a Dublin schoolboy by his peers, What Richard Did is a character study of an intelligent young man who tears his golden future apart in a moment of booze-fuelled jealous rage.

It’s a thought-provoking film that offers its teenage protagonists no mercy as it pries into their intimate lives, but it refreshingly allows them be who they are — it’s a kind of Irish Less Than Zero (1987), in which the pretty young things prove to be pretty vacant when the first real stumbling block to their gilded passage through life drops out of the sky.

Reynor is superb as Richard, an apparently effortless performance that grows impressively intense and anguished as he come to terms with his tragedy, and he gets strong support from Roisin Murphy, Sam Keeley and Fionn Walton.

As if dazzled by Reynor’s performance, the filmmakers allow the true tragedy of the story to slip away — Richard is the perpetrator, after all, not the victim — in favour of wallowing in persuasive but hollow existential self-questioning.

Then again, this story has its roots in the ‘me-me-me’ Celtic Tiger era, so perhaps Richard’s grief at the loss of his privileged existence is a satirical side-swipe at that benighted time.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (15A) is another tale of the dark aspects of teenage life, as Charlie (Logan Lerman), new to school and struggling with his best friend’s suicide, tries to fit in.

Older students Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller) take Charlie into their embrace, but Sam and Charlie have their own issues — Sam repeatedly chooses bad boyfriends, and Patrick’s having a secret affair with the high-school quarterback.

Directed by Steven Chbosky, who adapts the screenplay from his own novel, this ’90s-set tale is unsentimental, a ‘tough love’ riposte to the impossibly romantic happy-everafters of the John Hughes teen movies of the ’80s.

The three leads are impressive, although Miller catches the eye with his portrayal of an out-and-proud gay teen, and the period detail is nicely observed, especially the Smiths-laden soundtrack — although it is hard to believe that self-professed hip teens wouldn’t have heard of ‘Heroes’ by David Bowie.

Niggles apart, Perks … is a neatly paced drama that blends coming-of-age tropes into a tale of unrequited love, building to a powerful emotional finale in which dark secrets and haunting legacies are revealed. All told, it’s a smart, funny and deliciously dark love letter to teen angst.

Liam Neeson is a compulsively watchable old rogue on the silver screen, but Taken 2 (12A) is probably the worst film he has ever appeared in — and if you’ve seen Taken (2008), you’ll appreciate how dramatic a statement that is.

Joined by ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) and daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) in Istanbul after finishing a bodyguard job, security specialist Bryan Mills (Neeson) is snatched, along with Lenore, by the families of the Albanian men he killed while rescuing Kim in Taken.

Events then proceed with only a mildly irritating predictability as Bryan, despite being incarcerated in a dungeon, coaches Kim through her paces courtesy of a sneakily hidden phone, but when Bryan instructs Kim to start lobbing grenades from a roof in order to create a diversion, without any thought for the innocent bystanders below, the film takes a turn for the worse in a trajectory not dissimilar to that of a suicidal lemming.

That scene isn’t even the most implausible or offensive on offer in Oliver Megaton’s movie, which bears all the hallmarks of producer Luc Besson’s career-long pursuit of style over substance.

Unfortunately, the otherwise likeable Neeson has all the action-hero chops of a sawhorse, so style is at something of a premium too. Taken For a Ride might have been a more honest title.

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