[Screen It]


(2012) (Logan Lerman, Emma Watson) (PG-13)

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Drama: A troubled teen tries to get through his first year of high school and thinks he may have found salvation in a small circle of friends who let him in.
Charlie (LOGAN LERMAN) is a high school freshman who has few friends and isn't looking forward to the next four years of his life. While his parents are happy he seems to be emerging from his troubles that stem back to events in his past, even his older sister, Candace (NINA DOBREV), and her boyfriend, Derek (NICHOLAS BRAUN), want nothing to do with him. And to jocks like Brad (JOHNNY SIMMONS) and other such popular students, Charlie doesn't even exist.

He does find a kindred spirit in his English teacher, Mr. Anderson (PAUL RUDD), who sees a bit of himself in the teen and thus gives him various extracurricular books to read and broaden his horizons and outlook on life. Things do look up when a flamboyant senior, Patrick (EZRA MILLER), and his pretty half-sister, Sam (EMILY WATSON), invite Charlie into their inner circle of friends that also includes Mary Elizabeth (MAE WHITMAN) and Alice (ERIN WILHELMI).

Soon, Charlie is exposed to parties, drugs and even his first kiss, although he keeps his crush on Sam a secret, especially since she's dating a college student. As the year wears on and he ends up in a relationship with Mary Elizabeth, Charlie tries to sort out his feelings about his past, present and future, especially since all of his new friends will be graduating in the spring.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
Like many people my age, I've been receiving notices about my high school class' 30th anniversary party. And you know what? I'm probably not going to go. It's not that I'm anti-social, harbor some deep resentment toward someone who will be there, or want to avoid some old flame. Instead, it's simply that I didn't enjoy my four years of high school that much and thus don't have any raging desire to get together with most of those people.

You see, I wasn't a member of the in-crowd, and while I played some sports, I wasn't a jock. To most, I was the nerdy and socially awkward kid with a weird last name and thick glasses. Accordingly, when I wasn't picked on or viewed as the teacher's pet, I was, for the most part, overlooked or ignored. Talking to others, both my age and those younger (even including current college students), I've found I wasn't alone in viewing high school as a less than desirable place.

That said, I don't think I was quite like the lead character in "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," author Stephen Chbosky's own adaptation of his own 1999 novel of the same name. In that, Charlie (a pitch perfect Logan Lerman) enters high school already knowing the exact number of days until he's free of the place. A self-described loner who admits he has no real friends, he'd prefer to blend into the walls or any other flat surface and thus go unnoticed until his "sentence" is over.

It doesn't help that he has a troubled past that comes to light at various points in this poignant, sometimes funny, sometimes touching look at the awkwardness of growing up in the social mores of the high school system. We learn that his best friend committed suicide the year before, and that his favorite relative, his aunt Helen, was killed in a car crash when he was a pre-teen. There's a darkness to him, simmering just below the surface that he thinks he has under his control, much to the cautious relief of his parents (Kate Walsh and Dylan McDermott), while his older sister is nice to him at home, but does the usual bit of ignoring him at school.

Fortunately for him, as well as the viewer, things pick up when he's befriended by two seniors, Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Watson), who he initially thinks are dating, but is then told that they're half-siblings. They're ones who, for the most part, have figured out how to survive in high school after likely (regarding him) and later revealed (her) problems they had of their own in the earlier years.

They now seem to enjoy themselves to some degree and thus are happy to pull Charlie into their tight circle of friends. He also finds acceptance and something of a kindred spirit in his English class teacher (Paul Rudd) who gives him a variety of books to read to help broaden his mind and outlook on life and his place in it.

While there really isn't much here that we haven't already seen in other similarly themed films over the years (the character who turns out to be gay, the girl with the promiscuous past, bullying, etc.), there's a certain tangible quality to the way Chbosky puts his characters and dialogue up on the screen that makes it seem fresh and occasionally quite touching.

And he certainly benefits from strong to stellar performances from his trio of central performers, with a strong likelihood that Watson and especially Miller could garner some award nomination love if the field doesn't get too crowded in their respective supporting acting categories. The three have solid chemistry between them regardless of whatever the individual one-on-one interactions might be among them.

Unlike many of the people I went to high school with who looked down on me, I wouldn't mind having an occasional reunion with the characters here as they come off as people I would have liked to have hung out with back in the day, commiserating about our mixed feelings of hope, disappointment, excitement, dread and uncertainty about the past, present and future. "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" hits all of the right notes and thus rates as a 7 out of 10.

Reviewed September 25, 2012 / Posted September 28, 2012

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