I don’t often pontificate on the power of a film this quickly after I’ve seen it, but to be honest this has all been stewing around since The Perks of Being A Wallflower began. I remember reading the book a few years after it came out in 1999, probably around 2002 when I graduated from high school. I was never that as separated from the world as Charlie is, but I found myself making an immediate connection to the idea of really being a part of a tight knit group of friends. At different times in my life, I’ve felt exactly the same way; but it is strange that now, as I watched the film version of Chbosky’s novel (written and directed by the author himself), I couldn’t shake the feeling of still wanting that in some way. Differently, yes, but the overall desire to want someone to see you for who you are and to love you in spite of that, it’s powerful.
I just got home about half an hour ago from watching the movie. I’ve no doubt I’ll watch it several more times when the opportunity arises, one of those movies that hits you at just the right time. Even though it’s not a technically perfect film, I realize that it does so many things well that you let it live inside its flaws. After all, that is kind of the point of the book/film anyway. We cannot allow ourselves to live in the messes we make of ourselves, but in many ways, as human beings, we’re here for one another to help overcome those moments. Knowing those people exist in my life is comforting. Knowing there are still holes there, still open positions in those roles, is a little scary.
Where’s my Sam?
As for the movie itself, the heart of it is certainly in the performances. Logan Lerman captures Charlies just as he should be: he’s a loner, but only because he feels like he’s too odd for anyone to really like him. There’s also a sense, and Lerman nails this part, that Charlie feels like a cancer and responsible for the deaths of those who he’s been close to. The layers of the character are a tribute to Chbosky’s original story, but Lerman puts himself out there and allows Charlie to be vulnerable and honest, while still guarded and hiding from something that fleshes itself out as the film progresses. That both binary positions work so well says a lot about the actor’s performance.
Ezra Miller’s Patrick is sometimes a little over the top, but his more poignant moments near the film’s end really allow that to be a minor quibble. He, like the Charlie, wants to be loved for who he is, even if that means keeping secrets he’d rather tell, something Patrick and Charlie share.
Emma Watson, who I always felt was the most talented of the three Harry Potter children, really shines here, as well. Sam and Charlie are a lot alike, in spite the age difference, and their connection really feels genuine from the first moment she appears on screen. There is a quiet elegance about her, too, and a vulnerability never allowed to Hermione, but one that I hope to see a lot more of from the actress as the year’s go on.
The rest of the cast is excellent as well, especially Paul Rudd in the small but important role of Mr. Anderson, Charlie’s English teacher. This is a role that really works for Rudd, who we often see in goofier fare than this, but there is a truth to his performance that works so well and you really get the feeling that this is someone Charlie can trust. I felt as safe with him as Charlie does.
Aside from the acting, the film really nailed the tone of Chbosky’s novel. One of the difficulties that I often heard about regarding filming the book was taking the journal style of it and putting the events on screen rather than being told all the time what is happening. While a good bit of Charlie’s narration still exists, the major events of the film play out on screen, and we get a script that hits all the moments exactly right. When it is funny it is very much so, but when the film requires a serious turn, it handles that adeptly, too. For a director who hasn’t made a movie since 1995, Chbosky’s handling of the film is not overbearing, but allows the power of the story and words to really tell the story.
And that, above all, is what makes this film so good. It could easily have slipped into a high school movie cliche, but it is stronger than that. I’m 28 and I appreciate the value of the friendships shown here. We all need these types of relationships to help us get through life. To help us get the love we actually deserve, rather than just the love we think we do. To help us become infinite.