The Perks of Being a Wallflower is based on the wildly popular novel by Stephen Chbosky about a freshman named Charlie (Logan Lerman) who is always watching from the sidelines until a pair of charismatic seniors takes him under their wing. Beautiful, free-s pirited Sam (Emma Watson) and her fearless stepbrother Patrick (Ezra Miller) shepherd Charlie through new friendships, first love, burgeoning sexuality, bacchanalian parties, midnight screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and the quest for the perfect song.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower maintains the fine tradition of movies like Running with Scissors and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist in its savvy, sensitive telling of high schoolers coming of age and coming to terms. Though it enters some dark emotional territory as freshman Charlie (Logan Lerman) connects with a clique of older students, the smart sense of humor threaded throughout is as charming as the heavy stuff is powerful. Charlie enters high school with some serious yet indeterminate psychological problems that have clearly devilled him since childhood. We don't get to know about the extent of his difficulties until the movie's final scenes, but they've made it hard for him to find friends. A device that comes and goes is Charlie's voice-over of letters he's writing to an unknown and unnamed friend that describe the hard shell he's kept closed around himself. It all starts to change for Charlie--mostly for the better--when he hooks up with the eccentric, iconoclastic senior Patrick (Ezra Miller) and his popular step-sister Sam (Emma Watson). The energetic duo bring Charlie into their fold of friends and introduce him to a world outside himself that is probably exactly what he wanted, even though it's a place of loyalty, trust, and understanding that had previously been unimaginable in the small confines of his tortured head space. As with all friendships, there are rivalries, boundaries, rifts, and betrayals that ebb and flow as the school year unfolds. Charlie's inevitable breakdown and the healing that he experiences from having been exposed to such acceptance comes full circle in a neat little package at the end. But there's plenty of honesty, wit, and genuinely moving emotion expressed along the way. All the young actors commit fully to their well-drawn parts, especially the three leads. This may be the post-Potter role that breaks Watson free to revel in her talent, and Miller is a natural as a grown-up teenager who may have most of it figured out, even though the internal confusion he's tried so hard to bury still rears its head now and again. Set in the early '90s, the movie is tinged with peripheral period details that never overpower or insert themselves awkwardly into the action. Music is a big part of the characters' lives and is equally so in the spirit of the story. The writer-director is Stephen Chbosky, who adapted his own semiautobiographical young adult novel. He does right by his audience in presenting a movie that's fully adult and gets the little things right for anyone who is or ever was an angsty teenager embroiled in that horrible/wonderful search for self. --Ted Fry