No one will ever love the characters, the settings and the sentiments in "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" more than Stephen Chbosky.
The Upper St. Clair native imagined them for his 1999 novel and made sure he could properly usher them onto the big screen by writing and directing the movie version himself. His tenderness and affection for quiet freshman Charlie and the high school seniors he falls in with -- stepsiblings Sam and Patrick, in particular -- are evident. Even most of the adults are treated with dignity.
3.5 stars = Very Good
- Starring: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller.
- Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material, drug and alcohol use, sexual content including references and a fight -- all involving teens.
"Perks," set in Pittsburgh in 1991 and '92, is about a boy, Charlie (Logan Lerman), who lost his best friend to suicide, has had mental-health struggles of his own and dreads his freshman year of high school. He has no one to eat lunch with, is reluctant to volunteer answers in English class even though he knows the material and secretly worries he "might get bad again."
When he spots Patrick (Ezra Miller), a fellow and funny misfit from his shop class, at a football game, he musters the courage to acknowledge him in the bleachers.
Patrick and his stepsister, Sam (Emma Watson), take Charlie under their wing and introduce him to the joys of friendship, house parties with other oddball bright sophisticates, the floor show cast of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," late-night visits to Kings Family Restaurant and the rush that comes from "flying" through the Fort Pitt Tunnel as the radio miraculously delivers David Bowie singing "Heroes."
Charlie finds himself reluctantly dating one girl, the bossy Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman), while yearning for another. Patrick, who is gay, discovers the peril and pain of losing his heart to someone who is closeted. Sam, who has a troubled history of her own, struggles with an older boyfriend and worries about being accepted by her reach school.
"Perks," which shows some underage drinking and drug experimentation, ventures into territory exhilarating, comforting, confounding and disturbing, with one traumatic twist sensitively and subtly handled. It allows you to emotionally connect with almost all of the main characters, even the ones who don't get enough screen time (Mr. Rudd, that means you) or act in dishonorable ways.
Its messages are heartfelt. Chief among them: "We accept the love we think we deserve" and "We can't choose where we come from, but we can chose where we go from there."
Pittsburghers will recognize the familiar face of the shop teacher, the tunnel and glorious skyline naturally looming in the background the way it does for locals, the West End Overlook, Peters Township High School and Hollywood Theater in Dormont, and appreciate the references to such mainstays as the Penguins, Penn State football and Eide's Entertainment.
In addition to its core cast, the movie features Nina Dobrev as Charlie's overachieving older sister; Dylan McDermott and Kate Walsh as their parents and Melanie Lynskey as an aunt; Johnny Simmons as a star football player; and Erin Wilhelmi as another student who is part of Charlie's circle of friends.
With a soundtrack perfectly synched to the action, a setting free of the cacophonous clutter of iPhones and Facebook, and an expertly assembled cast -- Ms. Watson goes back to the future through that tunnel, Mr. Lerman gives Charlie a shy sensitivity and Mr. Miller is flamboyant and fearless -- "Perks" is that rare adaptation.
It will not disappoint the fans of the book whose copies are dog-eared, well circulated and, above all, much loved.