Passing through a tunnel on the way home after his first Homecoming dance, his first high school party and his first “special” brownie with the first friends he’s had since his best friend killed himself, Charlie looks up at Sam standing in the truck bed with her arms outstretched as Patrick cranks up David Bowie’s “Heroes” on the radio. With the lights rushing past them he turns and says, “I feel infinite.” And it makes sense in the suspended transition of growing up but not really going anywhere.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower isn’t groundbreaking–there are countless coming-of-age films that handle the same themes presented here–but Stephen Chbosky intertwines the regular woes of adolescence with the much darker past of one seemingly innocent boy.
Chbosky, director of the film, as well as author of the eponymous best-selling novel, knows just how to manipulate his audience into feeling all the right emotions. Logan Lerman is cute and unassuming in his role as Charlie, who becomes real with each narrated letter he writes to an anonymous “friend.” You literally feel all his anxiety, his desire to have even just one companion, the awkwardness of approaching someone new, the fear of “getting bad again.”
Here’s the story: After a difficult summer involving therapy and medication to deal with the suicide of his best friend, Charlie begins high school utterly alone. He manages to befriend senior step-siblings Patrick and Sam, who then pull him into a subculture of misfits. Charlie falls in love with Sam but is troubled by flashbacks of his aunt, who died in a car crash on his birthday, as the audience discovers deeper and deeper layers of misfortune in each of the characters’ lives.
Lerman’s portrayal of the wallflower who is trying to “participate” is spot-on; everything he experiences feels like it’s for the first time. Those baby blues of his convey a deep-seated innocence whenever something bad happens to someone he loves. He just wants to take care of everyone. His sincerity is almost painful when he tells Sam, “We accept the love we think we deserve,” to explain why they all fall for people who treat them like they’re nothing.
As Sam, Emma Watson lets go of Hermione Granger completely, minus a small hint of a British accent creeping through her American twang. She and Ezra Miller (Patrick) make an oddball pair that really showcases what it means to not give a damn what the rest of the world thinks of them–a feat no one at my high school was able to accomplish.
Miller is fun, charming, likeable and approachable as Patrick, yet with enough quirks to keep him a humble outsider. Flamboyant and proud, Patrick is the quintessential outcast who knows not to treat others the way he has been treated, thus taking Charlie under his wing. Miller brings a joy and much-needed humor to the film to keep it from being a seriously depressing tale of a boy struggling on the line between acceptance and defeat.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is emotionally exhaustive and exhausting, but in a good way. Fans of the book will find the adaptation to be faithful, thanks to Chbosky’s dedication to seeing it through with no major plot changes or explosions added. The soundtrack, with artists such as The Smiths, Sonic Youth and The Samples, fits the timelessness of teenage perils. Though it won’t go down in the history books as a necessarily great cinematic experience for anyone who remembers what it’s like to be 14, the story is perfect just the way it is–sad, funny, awkward and difficult. But it makes you feel infinite.