Almost everyone can related to feeling like an outcast at one point or another, but only a special few can attest to being a an outsider amongst outsiders. Stephen Chbosky's resonant coming-of-age novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, connected with readers because of its emotional honesty and willingness to explore the dark corners of teen angst. Chbosky's understanding and willingness to dig into the deep hurt that comes with being a social misfit makes for an important coming-of-age film that should be required viewing for teen in high school and adults who remember suffering through it.
Logan Lerman deviates from his franchise path(Percy Jackson, The Three Musketeers) to take on the role of Charlie, a shy and introverted boy who has a lot more to deal with than just the first day of high school. Struggling with a recent personal tragedy, Charlie would be having a tough enough time even if he wasn't so bad at making friends, which also makes him something of a target. Looking like it may be one long, lonely year with only his English teacher(Paul Rudd) to talk to, Charlie manages to catch the attention of two people who will change his life forever.
Charlie begins to come out of his shell, and after being hung up on his own problems for so long, he hits the toughest learning curve when dealing with the emotions of others. He royally screws up his first relationship with a cynical friend(Mae Whitman), while mostly fumbling his growing feelings for Sam. At the same time, Sam and Patrick introduce Charlie to a world of limitless possibilities, personified during one profound moment where they find their favorite song, hop in the back of a pickup truck and speed through the Fort Pitt tunnel with the wind blowing through them. It's a moment of pure freedom and joy, something Charlie has never experienced. Beautifully shot and capturing the glory of youth and boundless hope, it's a scene that will likely go down in the annals of teen movie history, like Judd Nelson pumping his fist at the end of The Breakfast Club. Yes, it's that memorable, and sums up everything the movie is about.
Chbosky's decision to mostly jettison the epistolary nature of his novel in favor of brief narration is a smart one, so is the decision to have the film version of Charlie be a little tougher. While there are plenty of moments of great sadness and despair, Charlie isn't someone to be pitied. He's someone we want to see find happiness and get over the past that has so badly damaged him. Chbosky has said often that the film was a personal journey for him, and the emotional touches he adds, including filming in his native Pittsburgh, are felt throughout. The momentum does tend to drift, however, and a crucial element to Charlie's past with his beloved aunt(Melanie Lynskey) is revealed in a haphazard manner, blunting much of its effectiveness.
Watson has simply never been better, and her maturity as an actress informs much of what we see in Sam, a vivacious and free-spirited woman facing the uncertainty of the future. Lerman's a fine actor and he does a good job here, but he gets swallowed up opposite Watson and Miller's flashier performances. Miller, who seemed lost opposite Tilda Swinton in We Need to Talk About Kevin, revisits some of the fun energy he brought to his breakout role in City Island.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a deeply effecting film, one that will be remembered for a long time to come.