The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a film adapted from a highly influential novel about young adults. The highest compliment one can give to a film adapted from a novel is that the movie makes you want to run right out and buy the book.
This is one of those films.
“Charlie” (Logan Lerman – 3:10 to Yuma) is about to enter his freshman year in high school. He wasn’t popular in middle school and expects things to only get worse. His older brother was a jock and is now playing college football. His older sister is also a senior at his high school, and while both he and Candace are very smart, he lacks her “coolness” and social skills.
It looks like he is in for a very long four years until he meets “Patrick” (Ezra Miller – We Need to Talk About Kevin). Patrick is a senior forced to take a freshman shop class and he and Charlie become friendly, which leads to Charlie also being friendly with Patrick’s senior step-sister “Sam” (Emma Watson – My Week With Marilyn). Suddenly he’s in their circle of friends, going to their parties and having interesting new experiences. His first time getting high, thanks to a brownie he eats unknowingly is particularly amusing.
But there is a dark side to Charlie that lies beneath the surface, and is hiding a tragic secret.
Charlie is attracted to Sam, who also has demons in her past, but she’s worked to overcome them. Now she’s dating an older guy named Craig and Charlie may or may not be able to compete with him. Meanwhile, one of Sam’s friends, “Mary Elizabeth” (Mae Whitman – Nights in Rodanthe), asks Charlie to the Sadie Hawkins Day dance and quickly they become boyfriend and girlfriend, even though that’s the last thing on Earth he wanted.
We see flashbacks of a young Charlie interacting with his “Aunt Helen” (Melanie Lynskey – Hello I Must Be Going), a relationship which has more to it than meets the eye.
There’s a lot more to the story that is best left to be experienced as it happens. This is a really good film that deserves a rating closer to four than three, but that’s not an option. The reasons it isn’t a four involve the use of tired clichés, even if they were part of the original material.
Hollywood, please give us a movie about a writer (Charlie wants to be a writer) that doesn’t involve a manual typewriter. And if we’re going to be shown a closeted high school boy, does he have to be an athlete who has a homophobic father? It also doesn’t help that we aren’t told up front that this film is set in the early 1990s, although you figure it out eventually thanks to the music used, and the ever present device of people romantically involved or interested in one another making “mix tapes” of music and a few spoken words recorded on a cassette tape.
But the good far outweighs the negatives here. Chobsky, who adapted and directs his own novel, does so with a very deft touch. Miller and Watson are perfect as step-brother and step-sister, two siblings brought together by the marriage of their parents who adore one another in a truly platonic way. Lerman may not have a lot of experience, but he shines as Charlie. Lynskey’s role as Aunt Helen is tiny, but critical, and Joan Cusack is good in the final act as a doctor treating Charlie once his demons have finally broken through.
Strong acting, great music and excellent writing mix together for an enjoyable movie. It’s especially enjoyable for those who were themselves “wallflowers” in high school, as it is an authentic translation of that experience.