Stephen Chbosky makes his directorial debut with an adaptation of self-penned coming-of-age novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012). Knowing the material inside out and with the help of a talented cast, Chbosky is able to craft a realistic, amusing and nostalgic drama that’s not afraid to touch on darker themes. Charlie (Logan Lerman) is a talented teenager starting his freshman year at high school in the wake of his friends sudden suicide and a dark history. Alone and frighteningly introverted, Charlie is taken under the wing of Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller), two half-siblings who introduce him to a world unlike any other he’s experienced before.
It’s a time that Charlie revels in. But, as the year draws to a close and Charlie’s newfound friends prepare to leave for college, old memories threaten to reappear and destroy what he’s established. Chbosky proves himself a deft hand at translating The Perks of Being a Wallflower to the big screen, even maintaining the book’s epistolary structure through voiceovers spoken by Lerman. This not only allows for the novel’s unique sensibility to remain in tact, but also enables the audience to develop a deeper, more emotionally resonant bond with Charlie as his life changes for the better, but is forever haunted by an unclear past he can’t quite escape let alone understand.
The film is built on the dark, murky past Charlie shared with his aunt Helen (Melanie Lynskey) and one that incorporates a range of equally weighty themes (loneliness, depression, sexuality and anxiety, to name a few). Yet – and to Chbosky’s merit – The Perks of Being a Wallflower constantly maintains an air of nostalgic fantasy that keep it as a surprisingly light, endearing and naturalistic snapshot into the life of a socially awkward teenager trying to find his place in the big, scary, turbulent world. It’s remarkably believable, and that’s due, in part, to its keen and skilled cast. Lerman grounds the film with a deeply layered performance beyond his years – a perfect balance between naivety and intelligence.
Watson shines as the object of Charlie’s affections, while Miller inhabits Patrick’s flamboyance and insecurities with a remarkable ease and sense of spirit that’s entirely infectious. The supporting cast, too, are all terrific and hold up their end of the bargain. While Chbosky may embed its darker elements in a fantastical sphere that removes some of the weight, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is nonetheless a surprisingly spot-on directorial debut, cementing Chbosky’s voice as one to be listened to. His directorial style compliments the material to a tee, and helps to deliver a film that’s as earnest, heartfelt and charming as coming-of-age dramas get. It’s not perfect, but it wears its heart on its sleeve and that has to be admired.