Having never read the best selling, young-adult novel, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” written by Stephen Chbosky, I didn’t know what to expect when I sat down to watch the movie. In fact, all I did know was that Chbosky (Jericho) had written and directed the film, and that the movie co-starred Emma Watson, in her first major role after the “Harry Potter” films. The book the movie was based on was originally published by MTV Books / Pocket Books on February 1, 1999. The film premiered at the “Toronto International Film Festival” on September 8, 2012. Two days later it made its American debut in Los Angeles, California. The 102 minute movie would go on to win the 2013 “Independent Spirit Award” for Best First Feature.
The poignant coming-of-age film is set in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the early 1990s. The movie centers on the main protagonist, Charlie (Logan Lerman). He is a high school freshman, who is introverted, loves to read, and feels alienated from his fellow peers. He is also haunted by traumatic events that have transpired in his young life. Throughout the movie, Lerman does an excellent job of capturing the gamut of emotions that his character feels. They range from happiness at having found friends he fits in with, to very low points, that he thinks about in his past, both immediate and as a small child; a past that includes the suicidal death of his best friend Michael, as well as his aunt Helen (Melanie Lynskey) being killed in a car accident. At the start of the film the only time Charlie seems comfortable expressing himself is while writing a letter – which will become a series of letters he writes throughout the film – to someone he addresses only as ‘friend.’
Thanks to nothing more than his pre-determined school schedule, Charlie winds up in the same shop class as Patrick (Ezra Miller). He is a tall, openly gay, extroverted member of the senior class, who is not the most popular kid in his school. Many of his fellow classmates call him the unflattering nick-name of ‘nothing.’ Coming out of his shell at the high school football game, Charlie begins talking to Patrick. The conversation is not only the catalyst for their friendship, but also his introduction to the multi-faceted Sam (Emma Watson). At first, Charlie mistakes Patrick and Sam for a couple, but as it turns out, they are step brother and sister. From that moment forward, Charlie becomes completely smitten with Sam, but due to his own innate shyness, as well as Sam dating a college guy, (Reece Thompson) he refrains from letting her know his true feelings.
Patrick and Sam, in turn, will introduce Charlie to their other friends; the bossy and self described, Buddhist, Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman); the blue jeans stealing, Alice (Erin Wilhelmi); and the pot smoking, Bob (Adam Hagenbuch). They enjoy listening to non mainstream music, hanging out at the diner, partying, and performing at their local movie theater’s midnight screenings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” The film’s uniformly excellent cast also includes, amongst others, “Golden Globe” winner, Dylan McDermott (The Practice) and Kate Walsh (Grey’s Anatomy) as Charlie’s parents, and Nina Dobrev (The Vampire Diaries), as his sister, Candace. Make up and special effects guru, Tom Savini, also has a small role as the shop teacher, Mr. Callahan. In addition, two time Oscar nominated actress, Joan Cusack, also has a few minutes of screen time as Dr. Burton, a mental health care specialist.
The remainder of the film not only explores the relationships Charlie develops with his new friends, especially Patrick and Sam, who have their own baggage to deal with, but his attempts not to succumb to his thoughts of extreme depression over past events. There are, however, lighter moments, as well, that add a bit of humor, such as his interaction with his high school English teacher, Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd). Anderson sees great potential in Charlie becoming an author, and he encourages Charlie’s literary talents by lending him books that he is not teaching to the rest of the class.
I recommend this film to whoever had (and I don’t personally know of anyone who didn’t have) an awkward day, week, month, or year in high school; a time where you felt you just didn’t fit in. Chbosky’s film speaks to those who are dealing with their high school years now, and perhaps are experiencing just those sorts of feelings, but it can also be viewed by adults, as a nostalgic piece pertaining to their own high school years. A time period that is fine to visit on film for under two hours, but one that I personally would not want to have to repeat all over again.