Stephen Chbosky’s bestselling YA novel “The Perks Of Being A Wallflower” was published in 1999, and has – deservedly – taken its place among the best of that genre. Several producers wanted to adapt it as a movie, but Chbosky held onto the rights, planning to do the movie version himself. He went on to write the screen adaptation of Rent as well as create and produce the post-apocalypse TV show Jericho. He finally put together a package, with John Malkovich as one of the producers, that allowed him to both write and direct the movie version of his book. It was worth the wait.
The Perks Of Being A Wallflower takes place in mid-1990’s Pittsburgh. It begins as the book does, with Charlie (Logan Lerman) writing a letter to an unnamed person about what’s happening in his life. He’s about to enter high school, which is enough of a psychological challenge on its own. However, Charlie has the added baggage that, the year before, his best friend had committed suicide, an event that sent Charlie into a mental tailspin that he’s pulled out of only recently. The first day is about what Charlie expected at the school, with two exceptions: in his shop class, there is a senior named Patrick (Ezra Miller) who delivers a sharp parody of the teacher before the man arrives; and Charlie’s English teacher Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd) recognizes Charlie’s intelligence and seeks to open him up to the broader world of books.
Along with Charlie’s fragility, his parents (Dylan McDermott, Kate Walsh) are dealing with his oldest brother going off to college. Charlie’s older sister Candace (Nina Dobrev) is in a relationship that, Charlie discovers, is abusive. Charlie asks Mr. Anderson about why she would accept such a relationship, and Anderson responds with the wise words, “We accept the love we think we deserve.”
Charlie attends a football game alone, but when he sees Patrick there he moves over to sit by him. They’re soon joined by Sam (Emma Watson), Patrick’s stepsister, who’s also a senior. They invite Charlie to a party at their house and, under the influence of some “happy” brownies, he displays the wit and intelligence he’s kept bottled up. He impresses Sam and Patrick’s friends, the wallflowers of the title. He also tells Sam about his friend’s suicide, and Sam and Patrick decide to take Charlie under their wings. Both of them are outsiders as well, Patrick because he’s come out as gay and Sam because she got a reputation as a party girl when she was a freshman.
The story covers Charlie’s initial year of high school, and a little bit beyond, in a series of beautifully-observed incidents. Chbosky uses the inner dialogue of Charlie’s letter-writing to both comment on scenes as well as to foreshadow what is coming. As time goes on, the dramedy swings away from the comedy side and goes into some deep, dark places, but you’re willing to follow because you care about these characters.
Chbosky gives the film a feeling of authenticity throughout, helped by filming on location in Pittsburgh. This is a case were being director, screenwriter, and writer of the source material isn’t vanity, but is instead necessary because of his depth of understanding of the characters. He coaxes wonderful performances from his cast.
Sporting her pixie haircut and a perfect American accent, Emma Watson leaves Hogwarts behind once and for all. In Perks she shines, as does Ezra Miller. He captures the happy-go-lucky, gay (in the old meaning) persona of Patrick, but there is also a seething anger beneath the patina, motivated by his still-in-the-closet boyfriend as well as the society of that time.
The anchor of the story is Charlie, and Logan Lerman does the role proud. He’s been active in Hollywood for years, having played Christian Bale’s son in 3:10 To Yuma and starred in the title role of Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, a sequel to which will be coming out next year. His role as Charlie is a quantum leap above his previous performances, showing Charlie’s vulnerability, awkwardness, and brokenness. As Charlie works out the event in childhood that left him fractured, we feel his pain and, finally, the lifting of the burden.
High School life often revolves around the music students are listening to, and the movie captures this perfectly. The soundtrack is excellent, especially with the use of David Bowie’s “Heroes” as a pivotal piece. Sometimes the heroic victory is getting through a day and learning that the next day can be better. It’s a message that should be shared with all the wallflowers out there.