It’s not just youngsters who might identify with the socially awkward teenager in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but adults of a certain age as well.
The coming-of-age comedy conveys adolescent angst in a way that should resonate with contemporary teens, yet it also captures the intricacies of its 1980s setting with more than just hairstyles, clothes and catchy tunes on the soundtrack.
The film is a smart adaptation of the novel by Stephen Chbosky, who also wrote the script and directed the big-screen version.
Charlie (Logan Lerman) has more than his share of inner turmoil for an incoming freshman at his Pittsburgh high school, and his timid nature makes it difficult to make friends. So he eventually is taken in by a small circle of quirky and impetuous social outcasts, including the flamboyant Patrick (Ezra Miller) and the lonely Sam (Emma Watson), with whom a romance eventually blossoms. But as Charlie feels acceptance and starts to come out of his shell, issues from his past and present start to collide.
Despite some formulaic tendencies, the film works in part because it takes a low-key approach compared to most teen comedies. It’s funny without resorting to broad slapstick, and it’s poignant without settling for cheap sentimentality. There’s a plot twist at the end that is handled with sensitivity instead of veering into exploitation.
Lerman (Percy Jackson and the Olympians) looks too old, but he captures the authentic spirit of a freshman who must confront the usual fears and anxiety of adolescence while dealing with the residual effects of a personal tragedy.
The remainder of the young cast is strong as well, highlighted by the first role for Watson outside of the Harry Potter franchise (and with an American accent, no less).
The film’s narration is heavy-handed – perhaps a byproduct of the source material – and the relationships sometimes feel forced, but most of the dialogue is sharp and transcends high-school cliches, especially in the way it captures the details of cliques and social circles.
Most of all, however, the movie features plenty of heartfelt charm in an assured directorial debut by Chbosky that reflects the personal nature of the material.
Rated PG-13, 103 minutes.