In the feature film adaptation of the popular (and semi-controversial) young adult novel of the same name writer/director Stephen Chbosky recounts part of his younger life as puts a difficult time in his life on display for the world to see. A bold film told in a retrospective manner we, through a series of letters Chbosky has the main character write to himself, get to know and see life through the eyes of a troubled high schooler named Charlie (Logan Lerman). A kind of therapy for the author who lived through some of the events depicted this story is about balancing friendship against estrangement and inner turmoil. It becomes a fascinating character arc triumphing over isolationism and personal demons with with endearing characters and an awesome 80’s soundtrack.
This beautiful retelling of Stephen Chbosky’s novel shows a side to high school kids that would make John Hughes both proud and jealous of. Starring a fantastic trio of young actors this film, the second feature from Chbosky, is feels so genuine it’s like being transported right into the story via some unseen way back machine and the music of David Bowie. Logan Lerman (who cut his teeth acting opposite Christian Bale and Russell Crowe) befriends Sam (Emma Watson) and her step-brother (an entirely charismatic Ezra Miller). These fine talents really embody this trio of misunderstood characters who band together because they’re odd. Only later do they find they are damaged which only makes a more lasting bond.
There’s a Garden State level of indie character/quirk that is engaging as it shares a frankness that ranks up there with the best coming of age films. But where someone like John Hughes has shown us deeper levels to what would’ve been considered stereotypical high school types, Chbosky raises the bar considerably revealing familiar layers to atypical and misunderstood kids. Do all kids deal with the same issues and troubles regardless of their outward appearance, attitude or front? Well Chbosky tells us the answer is a resounding yes. Teenagers are afraid, confused and more while trying to deal with increasing responsibility and expectations as they near adulthood. As Charlie doesn’t fit in with anyone else he fits in just fine with Sam’s group, a band of eclectic kids who openly welcome him to join their “island of misfit toys”.
Charlie soon develops a connection with his friends but so too does he grow close to his English teacher (Paul Rudd) who is inspired by Chbosky’s real life connection to screenwriter Samuel Stern. Logan’s screen time with Rudd is brief but the implied student/mentor angle still comes across well as he learns a little more about the world through the words of F Scott Fitzgerald and Tennessee Williams. Charlie then tries to share his own new found words of wisdom in an effort to help his friends, especially Sam. While she sports a convincing fascade, she’s actually the most unstable of the three. But through good times and bad this group of friends grows closer as each individual proves to be just the kind of emotional support the other two were looking for.
What’s revealed in the film beyond kids struggling with pre-adulthood is Charlie’s family drama; Chbosky slowly reveals issues that most people try to hide or suppress which is what makes Charlie’s story and reveal so impacting. In short Chbosky goes a long way to show that no matter who you are, everyone has problems and some level of contention but more importantly something that makes them unique.
In Charlie’s case it’s his friends who get him through tough times. He learns that it’s not just important to have friends but have friends who “get” him…and they totally do. The film is paced well and with so many colorful but grounded characters to follow along their respective arcs, this adaptation is a trip down memory lane. It might one that some people won’t want to recall but this ride touches on messages are just so universal it’s tough not to relate or sympathize with any of these kids.
In the end, Charlie goes from being the outcast to the rock and moral compass as he ends up helping his friends more than he does himself. Sometimes being an open ear is all it takes as it can be easier to open up to a stranger. More like “memoirs of a wallflower”, the narration style of story telling confirms that Charlie has made it through the events and as an affirmation tells kids (and adults) that it’s OK to be who you are. A story about loss, acceptance, love and tough emotional challenges The Perks of Being A Wallflower is a touching, emotional, compassionate and understanding film that, while focusing on just three teenagers, really speaks to nearly everyone on some level.