Stephen Chbosky doesn't stumble when bringing his beloved 1999 young adult novel to the screen as both writer and director. The Perks Of Being A Wallflower is a sweet surprise, a funny, touching terrific and quite wonderful movie that gets it all right about the joys and heartbreaks of growing up circa 1991. Anyone who's ever had to navigate the rocky course of coming-of-age will relate to the plight of Charlie, a kid trying to deal with his freshman year. Where scores of teen-oriented movies have overplayed their hand, this beautifully written, directed and acted gem belongs with the handful of classics in the high school genre, and that should mean it will be no wallflower at the box office, potentially drumming up some nice numbers just as school is back in session and word of mouth spreads among its key demo.
Logan Lerman's fine central performance as Charlie is at the heart of the film and Chbosky has done an impressive job transferring this quirky character from page to screen without losing the goofy charm that made the original material so popular among young readers. It's a given that this wallflower is going to come into his own, but the fun is watching him get there with the help of an older crowd he meets along the way, specifically one-time bad girl Sam (Emma Watson) and her stepbrother Patrick (Ezra Miller). They form quite the neat trio, even when Charlie begins to fall for out-of-his-league Sam but doesn't know how to deal with those feelings.
Things do take a turn in the third act when we learn more about Charlie's past than he has previously confessed in his voiceover letters to a mystery friend, but this is more an impressionistic view of high school than a plot-driven sad sack drama. Chbosky clearly takes great care with his source material, and although clichés of the genre abound—the obligatory party scenes, adventures with pot brownies, cruising—there's a certain pleasure to be had in taking the journey of this transitional year with Charlie. There's also a nicely pitched teacher/student relationship as his English prof (Paul Rudd) takes the promising kid under his wing when Charlie volunteers his "expertise" on several key books he likes.
Although Chbosky is not dealing with groundbreaking notions here, his tale of high school life is greatly enhanced by the talented cast, especially Watson who loses her Harry Potter persona quickly to play a spike-haired, seen-it-all girl with a worldly grace all her own. Miller (We Need to Talk About Kevin) is pitch perfect, too, and very funny as he gets most of the movie's laughs from a character with a few surprises of his own, particularly involving the football quarterback (Johnny Simmons). And Lerman is the perfect anchor. His Charlie is always believable and likeable , even when dark moments dive into heavy things like mental illness and suicide. Rudd doesn't have a lot to do, but does it well, and there's especially nice work from Mae Whitman as Charlie's wacky date and Melanie Lynskey, seen only in flashbacks as his aunt.
If the awkwardness of growing up and getting on with life is something we will never forget, so too is the unexpected pleasure of seeing it all played out with such freshness and verve.
Distributor: Summit Entertainment
Cast: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Paul Rudd, Mae Whitman, Melanie Lynskey, Kate Walsh, Dylan McDermott, Johnny Simmons.
Director/Screenwriter: Stephen Chbosky
Producers: Lianne Halfon, John Malkovich, Russell Smith
Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material, drug and alcohol use, sexual content including references and a fight—all involving teens.
Running time: 103 min.
Release date: September 21, 2012
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