I guess we have been wallflowers at one point or another in our lives, where we prefer to blend into the background, be alone, and observe. It's a comfort zone that we withdraw into, with nobody giving us a second look, and vice versa. For Charlie (Logan Lerman), a deeply buried incident had caused the inevitable change of behaviour, with a constant worry that the real him may not be well liked by peers. So he's quite the aloof kid, and when introduced in the story, is seen writing a letter to an imaginary friend as therapy, confessing his loathe for soon becoming a freshman in high school, under which this story unfolds.
Written and directed by Stephen Chbosky, who adapted the screenplay from his own novel (which was made up of a series of the said letters to that imaginary friend), The Perks of Being a Wallflower plain works, and engages on multiple levels, especially if you had grown up in the 80s and 90s, and would instantly recognize some of the iconic pop culture references used in the books, music, and musicals referenced both in the book origins, and on screen. There's wonderful drama about friendship, and the growing pains in this coming of age tale that had series of episodes that would be easy to identify with, making it seem a little bit closer to our hearts, with an eagerness to embrace it, since it's such a whimsical, nostalgic trip down memory lane.
There are elements associated with school life that may likely mirror one's own experience, dealing with first loves and the things we do for them, or those whom we fall in love with out of convenience then find it hard to back out from, the formation of firm friendships, school life from mugging to examinations, inspirational teachers who leave an imprint and encouraging us to fulfill potential, the proms, secret santas, gifts, the silly parties and shenanigans we get into, the extra curricular activities, cheap thrills, vice and fights. And how about those mix tapes as well, where we put together a series of songs for that special someone. The Perks of Being a Wallflower succinctly captured them all with a narrative breeze, without making any seem like overstaying their welcome, and had just enough oomph in them to leave you wanting more.
Logan Lerman really shone as the protagonist Charlie, who has a degree of innocence that's ripe for the mild corruption, especially when he hooks up with the brother-sister team of seniors Patrick, aka Nothing (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson). Lerman vividly portrayed his role as the understated heart and soul of the trio, and in their wider clique of friends, who were perfunctory to allow small subplots on various school life experiences squeeze through. He is the emotional anchor in the film, while also grappling with his own inner demons, and shows a tinge of vulnerability, with major struggling with a condition that we'll be privy to in due course of the narrative. And this was a major step up from his Percy Jackson and The Three Musketeers days to showcase some genuine acting chops.
And the powerhouse performances continue with Emma Watson as Sam, in what would still be her first few roles in leaving Hermoine behind, adopting a shorter crop of hair to play a spunky lass whom Charlie nurses a crush on, and who has quite the reputation with a long string of ex-boyfriends. Ezra Miller plays her brother Patrick, who has plenty of flamboyance, and is almost nearly the scene stealer with some of the best lines in the movie, topped by a natural charisma for the character who harbours his own secret and pangs too. Chbosky's story has these protagonists painted with a degree of confidence on the exterior, before paring it all down to their core, to see exactly what they were made of. And it's no surprise that all of them were equally vulnerable, and through the course of the story, became reminders on the importance of the building of confidence and gaining of strength from each other's comradeship and company.
I suppose for any writer turned director and working on his own screenplay, there's a tremendous sense of ownership and thorough understanding enabling a very true interpretation of what he wants to show and tell. It doesn't get any more truer than this, and Chbosky crafted some incredible interaction and dialogue amongst characters that make them all seem so authentic and real. Besides the offbeat comedy now and then, he really knew when to hammer those deeper emotions in, since the story also deals with emotional damage suffered from the past, which slowly unravelled itself. And not forgetting his very keen musical taste, as can be told from the soundtrack, with David Bowie's Heroes being used as bookends to mark the major transitions in life.
There will be moments where you'll chuckle, and moments where you'll cry. There will be moments which will move, touch, hurt, and make you reminisce about an era gone by, all captured in a capsule that is this film. With a packed narrative that's solidly portrayed by its youthful cast, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is that rare coming of age tale that's plenty of heart and emotion, that it's now in my shortlist as one of the best this year has to offer. A definite recommendation!