Novelist and first-time director Stephen Chbosky's "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" is a high-school coming-of-age-story. Yeah, you'd be right to approach that kind of tale with a caution. Most of the movies that tackles the pitfalls and highlands of adolescence is fraught with tedious cliche and too often written by people misremembering their own distant youth. The narrative follows certain conventions so closely, that we think we know what's coming around every bend. But, when you come across something different from all these cliches, it hits you, leaving a greater impact. The high school outsider story, "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" belongs to that kind, which tweaks the formulas and creates a crater of a impact in our mind.
PlotHigh school freshman Charlie (Logan Lerman) is a loner. Charlie's best friend has recently committed suicide. He has blackouts and a constant mysterious vision of a doting aunt who died when he was 7 and he is on psychiatric meds -- lots of them. But he's got caring parents (McDermott and Kate Walsh) and a solid family. At school, Charlie is teased by bullies and he manages like a convict, counting down the days until he graduates. Since the movie takes place in the 90's, there is no widespread Internet usage, where misfits have an access to others of their ilk.
Charlie days as a wallflower and loser comes to an end when he is rescued from a state of limbo by an eccentric gay classmate, Patrick (Ezra Miller), who sees something soulful inside him. Patrick is very close to Sam (Emma Watson), his step-sister and a exuberant play-mate. Charlie is so sure that Sam is his soul-mate with a lack of confidence and love of the same music that matches his own. But, of course, Sam has a boyfriend, and she just wants to be friends with Charlie, so far as he can tell.
Eventually Charlie becomes a member of Patrick's circle of friends and even dates the talkative Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman). There's also something dark lurking in the back of his mind and, when things start going badly, he begins to lose his composure as his life spirals out of control.
AnalysisIt's fairly common for screenwriters to adapt a novel, but a novelist who adapts his sensational novel for the screen, and then actually directs the movie? That's kind of unheard. But debutant film-maker Chbosky makes perfect sense. His script is perceptive about the exhilaration of soul-piercing first love. He also trusts his viewers to understand the underlying meaning of moments without throwing in a lot of unnecessary explanations. That kind of direction requires a more nuanced level of acting and the three main characters are very adept at pulling it off.
Ezra Miller frightened us as the pretty, cold mass-killer in "We Need to Talk About Kevin." Here, as Patrick, the same guy shocks us by exhibiting warmth and woundedness. As Sam, Emma Watson calibrates from the "Harry Potter" franchise into a nice role, where her character, despite seeming so perfect to Charlie, must overcome her own doubts and fears. Watson incites a convincing, semitransparent fragility to her role. As 'wallflower' Charlie, Lerman was previously known for his title role in "Percy Jackson", but he is far better here, balancing the exhilaration of finally fitting into a group with the difficulty of staying there, while trying to keep himself together. He gives Charlie the looks of a innocent guy and the awkwardness was never overplayed.
We might have thought of ourselves as 'outsiders' during high school. That's the way of adolescence. The Perks of Being a Wallflower perfectly captures this ineptness, the loneliness, and the unusual fellowship that accompany being on the outside looking in. The movie is also finally optimistic: it says and expresses that high school is not necessarily a bad place to be... it's just different. Many movies of the past has conveyed this message, but it's very much essential for now, in this gun packing, hate-driven world.
Watch "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" and cheer Charlie on his journey of self-discovery and personal transformation.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower - IMDb