I hadn’t though of that first day of high school in years, but I couldn’t help reminiscing while watching writer and director Stephen Chbosky’s film, Perks of Being a Wallflower.
Chbosky’s film — which is based on his coming-of-age novel — follows introvert and high school freshman Charlie (Logan Lerman), as he befriends seniors Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson). Charlie, whose best friend committed suicide in the past year before enrolling in high school, relays his story by writing in extremely personal letters addressed to a “dear friend.”
Like Chbosky’s book, Charlie is brutally honest, and that confessional narration allows the viewer to empathize with the protagonist. After all, can’t we all remember feeling like an outsider?
Lerman captures Charlie’s earnest charm. He’s awkward as he shies away from attention in class or at a dance, and naïve as he mistakenly swallows marijuana-laced brownies at a party becoming the butt of a prank. But his underdog status is part of his appeal. Lerman’s face is open and easy to read; yet subtle gestures convince the audience of his honesty. His lips tug upwards in a genuine grin as he laughs. His fingers drum nervously as he confesses traumatic experiences, although his voice is as nonchalant as if he’s talking about the weather. Lerman has grown up since he played Ashton Kutcher’s younger, seven-year-old self in The Butterfly Effect eight years ago, but Lerman retains a sweet innocence as the upperclassmen introduce him to The Rocky Horror Picture Show and dating. Although Lerman had a more explosive role as a smart aleck in The Butterfly Effect, Lerman’s nuanced performance in Perks of Being a Wallflower is certainly as memorable.
Yet Lerman isn’t the only charismatic young actor in the cast. The loving friendship between Patrick and Sam is palpable and infectious that one can see why Charlie sought the two. Your eyes are drawn to Miller, who can be flamboyant and outspoken, and Watson, whose smile is incandescent. As the two tease and banter with each another and welcome Charlie to their group, the viewer vicariously feels invited. Both Miller and Watson enrapture the viewer that you soon forget their past résumés.
While Miller also played a high school student in Beware the Gonzo, he appears naked in Perks of Being a Wallflower — serving his vulnerability on the silver screen as he relays his experiences of trying to sustain a relationship with a closeted, gay football player (Johnny Simmons). The fact that Miller tries to joke around as he’s holding back quivering tears makes his performance more genuine. It’s sad but realistic that you feel yourself grabbing for tissues as tears stream down your face.
Meanwhile, Watson transforms from the bushy-haired girl from the Harry Potter franchise. Her short hair and American accent further separate her from Hermione. While it’s hard to see Elijah Wood as anyone other than Frodo from the Lord of the Rings series, Watson shows that she can be independent of the franchise that gave her her fame. She’s spunky as Sam, and while she’s authoritative as the high school upperclassman (and nowhere near as bossy as Hermione), she is also vulnerable as she cries, “I want people to like the real me.”
Besides the impressive acting from the talented 20-something-year-old cast, Chbosky’s film has that same relatable quality that endeared his book to quiet and confused high school wallflowers. You realize that you’re falling in love with Lerman, Miller, Watson and Chbosky’s words. And as the script provides the time capsule to your high school self — that even though you may “forget what it’s like to be 16 when you’re 17” — Perks of Being a Wallflower reminds you that for “right now, these moments aren’t stories” and you’re alive.
“Perks of Being a Wallflower” was written and directed by Stephen Chbosky based on his novel.