High school is always a dependably solid subject for a Hollywood film because it lets wirters and directors set their characters in an environment that both poses familiar challenges and yet demands unqiue resolutions. This combo is what makes the new film from writer-director Steven Chbosky The Perks of Being a Wallflower work as well as it does, even when it really should be faltering because of the flaccid quality of some of its structure.
The story begins with a 14 year-old named Charlie (Logan Lerman) on his first day in a new high school. He is both highly intelligent and extra sensitive – a lethal combination if ever there was one for a new teen in high school. His best friend has committed suicide the year before, and his other bff Susan is now one of the “mean girls” at the school. Needless to say, Charlie is a lonely creature.
Enter Patrick (Ezra Miller), one of the most unique and self-assured outcasts in the entire school to whom Charlie is clearly drawn. Charlie is smitten with Patrick, but more so by Patrick’s stepsister Sam (Emma Watson) who shows him that life is pretty awesome when you are Hermione. Since Charlie spends much of the movie writing to an anonymous somebody, divulging his innermost desires, fears, and emotions, much of the plot actually occurs in the space between Charlie’s ears. It can be a decidedly claustrophobic cinematic outing and is only rescued by his interactions with Sam and Patrick. The movie ultimately builds to a crescendo detailing the emotional uprising that occurs inside the wallflower that is Charlie. Sam and Patrick seize life by the horns – there is no such thing as ‘observing’ to them – and yet Charlie cannot bring himself to do the same. A psychiatrist would have a field day with Charlie. And I think much of the movie could be avoided if he would just check into the school’s social worker’s office.
There are many things going on in this story: subplots about new experiences, teen notions of romance and first loves, sex and homosexuality, and even the singular ways of a mind with a literary bent. But all of it is held together by the superb performances from the cast, notably Watson in her best non-Hermione role to date and Lerman, who brings his character to life with the softest performance you’ve seen in years. A definite charmer, though at times cloyingly so.