The 2013 film, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” features my hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In the movie, a group of high school students cope with acceptance at a suburban Pittsburgh high school. Steven Chbosky wrote the novel and the screenplay, and he also directed the film. It’s a very coherent and watchable film with good acting and an interesting story. It also takes place in the early 1990’s, a period in America that I missed while living in Belgium from 1990 to 1996. I appreciate the high level of idealism expressed by Chbosky, especially since he stated in his commentary on the film that he wanted to avoid completely unsympathetic characters. They run rampant in other coming-of-age films, but not this one.
The film tells the story of Charlie (Logan Lerman), a repressed and fragile teen who navigates his way through his unfriendly freshman class. None of his classmates show any love for him at school, and even his older sister Candace strenuously avoids him. The smart and sensitive Charlie finally connects with a supportive English teacher named Mr. Anderson, played with effective seriousness by Paul Rudd. Mr. Anderson encourages him to read the classics and keep his individuality as he navigates his difficult year. Mr. Anderson also becomes Charlie’s creative mentor, since he’s seen some success as a playwright in New York, while serving as the main adult anchor in a movie dominated by post-adolescent characters.
Luckily, Charlie meets Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller), a pair of inimitable step-siblings and seniors who decide to allow him to hang out with their interesting and popular (but alternative) crowd they unofficially call “The Wallflowers.” They introduce him to alcohol, pot, liberation philosophy and free-spirited play. In a series of episodes that include high school parties, football games and the prom, Charlie slowly emerges from his shell while developing a serious crush on Sam.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower explores several issues while following Charlie on his journey, including child abuse and dealing with a death of a friend. But Chbosky keeps it light and even though some of the situations prove to be quite embarrassing, he doesn’t present them in a mean way. He juggles the episodic and interesting story elements with proper emotions, and that keeps the viewer interested in all the characters.
Lerman shares lots of screen time with Watson and Miller, but Nina Dobrev, who plays Candace, and Mae Whitman also contribute meaningful scenes. Whitman shines as the brainy, possessive, arrogant but likable Mary Elizabeth, who is part of the Wallflower crowd. She becomes somewhat of a rival to Sam for Charlie’s affections, but is nevertheless all wrong for him. To me, that doesn’t seem like much of problem, but the film handles this and other more serious issues in an effective way. It’s quite enjoyable and good.