From James Dean to John Hughes to vampires sparkling in the sun, adolescent angst has long been a big draw at the box office. The horrors of high school are after all a fairly universal experience, particularly for the kinds of kids drawn to Smith’s records, B-movies and books like Catcher in the Rye, all of which play a big part in the coming-of-age of Charlie (Logan Lerman; The Three Musketeers), the quiet, bookish hero of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Directed by Stephen Chbosky from his own popular young adult novel, the film is a funny, heartfelt if admittedly formulaic feature that boasts first rate performances and a genuine affection for its characters – affection that viewers will likely find contagious.
On the eve of his induction into high school, Charlie writes a letter to an imaginary friend. Heard in anxious voiceover, the young writer admits his fear that he will go un-liked or unnoticed, first day jitters that are compounded by vague allusions to an ongoing psychological illness. At school he sits by himself in the cafeteria, avoids answering questions in class and makes only one friend: his English teacher Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd; My Idiot Brother). But things grow more promising when he meets seniors Patrick (Ezra Miller; We Need to Talk About Kevin) and Sam (Emma Watson; Harry Potter), extroverted step-siblings who soon take the wallflower under their wing.
Chbosky’s biggest asset is undoubtedly the talent of his young cast. Striking just the right balance between apprehension and wonder, Logan Lerman fits perfectly into his role as Charlie, an understated character who in the wrong hands could have been painfully whiny or disappeared entirely into the background. Ezra Miller, meanwhile, pulls a complete one-eighty from his skin crawling turn as a teenage sociopath in We Need to Talk About Kevin to play the out-and-proud Patrick, nailing all the scripts funniest lines without ever descending into lazy, bitchy caricature or compromising his characters emotional uncertainty. Finally there’s Emma Watson, who sheds the chains of the Harry Potter franchise along with her long hair and English accent to deliver as the object of Charlie’s infatuation her most mature and nuanced performance to date.
Of course from jock bullies to Charlie’s first drug experience to the unattainable girl with whom he falls hopelessly in love, Chbosky’s scenarios are hardly unfamiliar; at moments, you could even call them clichéd. Yet much of Wallflower’s charm comes from its romantic sense of familiarity. Its images are filtered through the lens of bittersweet nostalgia to come out resembling scenes from countless beloved coming-of-age stories, not to mention, occasionally, real life. You may not know these people, or have had the exact same experiences. But chances are you’ll recognise some of them, and appreciate the sincerity of the rest.