Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Charlie (Logan Lerman) starts his first year of high school. His only good friend committed suicide a little while ago and Charlie, an introvert who finds it difficult to communicate, is understandably apprehensive about his freshman year. The only person with whom he was ever able to feel some kind of a connection, besides his suicidal friend, was his Aunt Helen, but Aunt Helen is now gone and Charlie is alone, and a new life at a new high-school looms like an unavoidable dark cloud which is about to consume him. “Freshman is tough,” Charlie is told, “But you really find yourself.”
Paul Rudd plays Mr. Anderson, Charlie’s English teacher, who sees something in Charlie that maybe Charlie doesn’t see in himself, and befriends the boy. “You know,” Mr. Anderson states, “They say if you make one friend on your first day, you’re doing okay.” “If my English teacher is the only friend I make today,” Charlie responds, “That would be sort of depressing.”
The good news for this particular wallflower is that Charlie will be adopted as a friend by two unlikely sources, high-school seniors; Sam, played by Emma Watson shedding her British Harry Potter accent for a remarkably effective American one, and her out-going step-brother Patrick, by Ezra Miller shedding any semblance of murderous menace he projected so well in We Need To Talk About Kevin.
For those who know nothing of its history, The Perks of Being Wallflower began life as novel written by the film’s director Stephen Chblosky and published by MTV in 1999. It went on to become an enormous hit with its teenage audience, reflecting and touching the kind of relatable nerve that its target audience embraced wholesale, and I have a feeling the film will do the same. It should. It’s very good.
There’s an insight to teenage angst that Chblosky has captured so well; you don’t need to be a teenager to understand the thoughts and feelings of Charlie. To a degree we’ve all been there.
The novel was presented as a series of letters that Charlie writes to someone anonymous as if exorcising all thoughts and frustrated feelings through the power of words. The film reflects this approach by having the beginning credits appear as titles on a typewriter, though the film version tells its story by leaving the book aside and showing us all events in a real world setting. Whereas in the book the identity of its narrator remains a secret, – the name ‘Charlie’ is an alias that the young man hides behind – the film has no such ambiguity.
The film is fun and often very funny despite the occasional plunge into darkness and a story outline that suggests depression and loneliness. When Watson and Miller perform their living room routine to Come On, Eileen at the school dance it’s a moment of unexpected, exuberant bliss. Director Chblosky has pulled three outstanding performances from his leads; if I was Charlie I would have loved to have had two friends like Sam and her step-brother to help me break out of my shell.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 103 Minutes Overall Rating: 8 (out of 10)