The collective moments of loveliness in The Perks of Being a Wallflower are infinite.
Not since Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous has a film explored the confounding depths of adolescence with as much whimsy, beauty, and heartache like author/filmmaker Stephen Chbosky’s tragic and hopeful sophomore effort.
Adapting from Chobsky’s best-selling novel of the same title, Charlie (Logan Lerman) is an observant introvert about to begin high school. Friendless, the shy and whip smart teen strolls through the hallways and the cafeteria in search of a helping hand. Most of his older pals have become big shot athletes, and his sister Candice (Nina Dobrev) is preoccupied with Ponytail Derek (Nicholas Braun), her hippy, make a-love-tape-each-week boyfriend.
Charlie’s first day of the rest of his life is primarily filled with discouraging interactions – the respite being his aspiring writer English teacher Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd), who serves as a pertinent figure throughout the story providing the timid child with books to read and write about.
With a glimmer of hope inside, the soft-spoken teen stumbles upon Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson) at a football game. Patrick is openly homosexual and Sam is notorious for being frivolous with her body – willing and kind, the two seniors adopt the perplexed freshman.
Similar to the beloved book set in the suburbs of Pittsburgh during the 1990s, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is told through a series of letters penned by Charlie. His own tumultuous past plays a factor in his overall insecurity. At one point hospitalized, Charlie is in an ongoing struggle to get over the death of his aunt – who, ostensibly, was the one individual he could openly speak to.
The bond that grows between his newfound friends (who help him get over his loss) evolves into something most people can identify with at one point in their lives.
Artsy and non-conformist (and occasionally genuine) Charlie’s friends introduce him to music, drugs, alcohol, sex, love, and freedom. The relationship that forms between Sam and Charlie is particularly affecting. Our protagonist falls for the awe-inducing beauty at first sight – but is met with a mixed reaction when she admits to having a boyfriend.
Conceived with as much poignancy, warmth, and understanding as Say Anything and American Graffiti, The Perks of Being a Wallflower goes through these all too typical motions of high school with originality and sincerity.
Most love is ultimately met with heartbreak, momentary happiness transcends into utter disappointment, friendships are gained and then lost, and ambitious dreams are formed only to be unexpectedly crushed. However, through participating Charlie begins to understand that while much of what transpires in high school is unsatisfying and unpleasant, there’re the occasional moments that make it all worthwhile. That first kiss with someone you care about, the endless nights with a proclivity for fanciful discussion, and that intimate group of friends that make this whole emotional mess we call high school, tolerable.
Lerman, Watson, and Miller are uniformly magnificent in their roles. Each of the three genuine actors contain bright futures in this perpetually disingenuous business. Hopefully this film will serve as tactful reminder to Hollywood: let the author of the adapted novel write and direct his or her own story.
The Perks of Being a Wall Flower removes all the artifice and aims straight for the heart. When it connects with the musical triumphs of David Bowie’s Heroes and Dexy’s Midnight Runner’s Come On Eileen, the results are infinite. In a scene that won’t leave a dry eye in the house, Charlie explains to Sam “we accept the love we think we deserve” – which, is an overarching note in a story that displays tremendous and palpable affection for its characters and their lives, past and present.
For now, Charlie has learned how to live. Something perhaps many of us have still yet to do.