Growing up and feeling like an outsider is a subject that many novels (as this was a very successful novel originally) and films have covered. It has been done time and time again because the very nature of it is perfect for the medium of film. The highs are very high and the lows are awful. Joy and sadness make for good cinema. We have all gone through or are going through our teenage years and every emotion is heightened during this volatile time. It makes for a story we can all relate to. This is why filmmakers have gone back to this same territory over and over. You do, however, have to bring something new to the dance.
What writer/director Stephen Chbosky (writer on the television series Jericho) brings to the table is a well-written, intelligent script and a handful of talented young actors. Most of the focus was on Hogwarts graduate Emma Watson and I’m pleased to report (pleased because she is a likeable actress) that she stands up to the pressure. Playing totally against the character that we identify her with, this time she is smart, but also wild and unpredictable. Ably she sheds Hermione to be this flirty but insecure character. Another actor who stood out was the young Logan Lerman, who as Charlie is the defacto lead in the film. He has been in other films like the remake of 3:10 to Yuma, The Number 23 and Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightening Thief though this is the first time he really made me sit up and take notice of him. We have to like him although we are aware that there is some darkness within him. The role asked a lot of the young actor and he was totally up to the challenge.
Charlie (Logan Lerman) is the type of kid that you find in most high schools. He is smart and sweet, but largely ignored. And when he is not being ignored he is being bullied. After his best friend had committed suicide the previous year Charlie is now left without any friends. Because of his previous mental problems Charlie’s mom (Kate Walsh – from television’s Private Practice) and dad (Dylan McDermott – The Campaign, In the Line of Fire) Charlie’s parents are worried about him.
They needn’t worry too much because Charlie meets a bunch of seniors who have dubbed themselves the Wallflowers and they take him under their wings. After meeting Patrick (Ezra Miller – We Need to Talk About Kevin, City Island) in shop class he meets Patrick’s stepsister Sam (Emma Watson), Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman – One Fine Day, Independence Day) and Alice (Erin Wilhelmi – first film).
Charlie finds a place and people he belongs with. That doesn’t mean that he won’t have challenges like first love, his memories of the death of his beloved aunt (Melanie Lynskey – Heavenly Creatures, Up in the Air) and mental illness to deal with.
Unlike other teen oriented films this one does not dumb things down. It is an intelligent film that features mature themes like love, mental illness, homophobia, and sexual abuse. There is plenty of emotion without becoming sappy or overly sentimental. Much of the praise has to go to the young director. His film is of the confidence level you normally only get from more experienced directors. Chbosky does not allow the richness of the novel he wrote melt away when translating it to the big screen. He allows the emotion of the story to come right through never shying away from it. The sentiment of the film is amplified by the sense of nostalgia running throughout. It is the latter that allows the film to connect with older members of the audience as well. As a result the powerful book is now a powerful film.