On The Island of Misfit Toys
by Mark Dispenza
Written and directed by Stephen Chbosky from his own novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower effectively captures the wonder of the high school years, yet doesn't shy away from the hard truths. Instead of taking the usual route of playing it for laughs, Chbosky expresses both the exhilarating highs of teenage discovery and the devastating lows that come from encounters with the less savory aspects of the adult world.
Charlie (Logan Lerman) is an intelligent kid who prefers to avoid trouble by remaining quiet and in the background, hoping no one will notice him. His solitude hides a multitude of deep-seated emotional problems. He recently suffered the suicide of his best friend, who didn't even bother to leave a note, and he has a terrible secret that is hidden even from his parents and siblings.
Ezra Miller and Emma Watson
As he begins high school, Charlie is lonely and miserable until he meets Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson) and becomes the protege of their unusual group of high school seniors. That's when his life gets a great deal more interesting.
During the high school years, most teens try to make sense of the frightening adult world by banding together into stereotypical groups. This gives them a sense of belonging and a code of behavior they can follow and force onto those who might deviate and cause friction within the group. Charlie's new friends are the deviants. They bond over their very differences and refusal to conform. He is brought into this world by Patrick, who is gay and an under-achiever.
But it's Sam who really gets under his skin. Despite the difference in their ages, Charlie falls hard for Sam and wants to be with her all the time. However, Sam is much more interested in pursuing relationships with boys who treat her badly and give her "the love she thinks she deserves." Sam feels a connection to Charlie and loves him in her own way, even though she will not allow him to get too close. There is a dark secret that they share, but it won't be fully revealed until the climax.
Watson is charismatic as Sam, and she succeeds in creating a powerful empathetic bond with the audience. She is attractive, strong and vulnerable at the same time - a believable complexity. This is a breakout role for her and will catapult her from her iconic image as Hermione in the Harry Potter film series into much more adult roles.
Logan Lerman and Mae Whitman
Less comedic in tone, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the smartest coming-of-age film about the teen years since Submarine. Chbosky is a writer-director who has a talent for telling stories about the daily struggles of ordinary young people in extraordinary circumstances. His talents were clearly in evidence as writer of the film version of Rent and as co-creator of the television series, Jericho. I anticipate that his best work is yet to come.