Writer / Director: Stephen Chbosky
Stars: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, and Paul Rudd
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is unique in that the author not only adapted his book to the screenplay, but also directed the film.
The film begins with Charlie (Logan Lerman) narrating a letter to an unknown recipient. We learn that Charlie is recovering from an emotional trauma, and he will be entering his first day of high school in the 10th Grade. He is intelligent, scared and alone. At lunch, Charlie sits by himself and reads a book. Later he meets Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd), his English teacher. They have a slight connection at the end of class; a teacher who realizes Charlie needs to be nurtured and a student who realizes his teacher is going to care. Finally he meets Patrick (Ezra Miller), a senior in freshman wood shop. He is drawn to Patrick’s charisma, character, and his pride in and acceptance of himself.
At a Friday night football game, Charlie sidled himself next to Patrick. During the course of the game he meets Patrick’s step-sister Sam (Emma Watson), also a senior. Together, they waylay Charlie on their adventures. As time passes, Charlie is further introduced into Sam & Patrick’s sphere of friends and interests. One weekend at a party, Charlie inadvertently eats a “special” brownie. Uninhibited, Charlie reveals to Sam the suicide of his best friend. But this is not all that haunts Charlie’s past and affects his present. As the year progresses, the three experience different challenges and emotions as they learn more about themselves and each other.
The story is original while being familiar. Though the standard high school tropes are present, they are not stereotypical. Patrick is out and proud. Sam is a young women who has made adult choices, some of which she has come to regret. Their group of “Misfit Toys” are not the outcast losers typically put-down by others, but friends who are proud of who they are–but by no means perfect. As for Charlie’s story? Frankly, it is a melancholy one, but one that leaves you knowing he will be all right.
The acting across the board is excellent. Lerman, not exactly the most charismatic actor in his previous films, carries himself well. His Charlie is shy, damaged, and longing to fit in. It is a joy to watch him come out of his shell, and heartbreaking when he falls. You connect with Charlie and want to learn more about him. Emma Watson proves she is more than Hermione Granger. As for Ezra Miller, he steals every scene he is in. The three together or in pairs play off each other believably and with an emotional connection. A lesser performance from any of the three–though especially the character of Charlie–would have derailed the whole film.
Chbosky as screenwriter could have tightened his book more. The use of Charlie writing letters to an unknown person should have been changed to him writing in a journal. As it is, the mystery of trying to determine who he is addressing the letters to distracts us from his personal journey. Also, though his sister does have one key moment at the end of the film, her character is superfluous and that action easily accommodated by another person. Chbosky, as director, acquits himself admirably. Though there were a few distracting camera shakes, his inexperience did not harm the film. The musical score, soundtrack, and editing all enhanced and moved the story forward, and never felt out-of-place or forced. His greatest strength as director was not getting in the way of the actors, and allowing them to shine.
Initially, I merely enjoyed the film while I was watching it. As I thought about the story and the performances later, I appreciated the film much more.
Grade = B+