Like any writers worth their salt, Stephen Chbosky channeled the best and worst episodes of his youth into a book called The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
One thing he must have picked up from his journey was assertiveness, as Chbosky also got to write the screenplay and direct the moving new film version, which follows a 9th grader named Charlie (Logan Lerman) through a memorable yet painful freshman year.
On his first day, seeing the relentless bullying and social stratification going on in the hallways, Charlie attempts to make himself invisible by taking alternate routes to class and, once there, volunteering nothing. A stand-out in his shop class is Patrick (Ezra Miller, breezy and warm here, as opposed to his icy, scary performance as the troubled title character in We Need to Talk About Kevin), a senior with the kind of sassy demeanor and sharp tongue urban gay kids use as ammunition.
Patrick is memorable to Charlie because the former doesn't care what anyone thinks of him - a personal goal for the latter, who's so introverted he's ghostly. Still, Charlie's not without wiles and invites himself to sit next to Patrick at a football game, facilitating in turn an uncomplicated introduction to Sam (Harry Potter's Emma Watson), Patrick's stepsister, who also prides herself in discounting any judgment from her peers.
Sam and Patrick indoctrinate a willing Charlie into their group of unique, non-conforming kids that Sam calls "misfit toys" and he soon learns why Sam in particular is broken. (In the last quarter of the movie, it's revealed with devastating clarity why Charlie feels bonded to her from the beginning.) But she's resilient and quirky and, to her gay stepbrother, a protective mother hen. To Charlie, meanwhile, she becomes a confidante and his introduction to love and tenderness.
The movie is set apart from the teen high school angst genre due to the work of the young actors at its helm. Lerman has eyes that look like wet turquoise, and subsequently perfect portals into his mysterious sadness. Watson's English accent never pops out and she makes Sam both steely and vulnerable, while Miller is quite comfortable with Patrick's snappy wit and brazen personality; he's like a high school senior finishing out the term as a performance artist. Notable also in a brief but boldly tackled role is Melanie Lynskey, one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood, who frequently elevates every film lucky enough to have her.