By Calli White
The typical teen movie themes of friendship, first love, experimental drug use and the quest for an understanding of self can seem a bit tired and glamorized in Hollywood nowadays. However, in Stephen Chbosky’s adaptation of his beloved 1999 coming-of-age novel, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” the author, screenwriter and director, as well as the rest of the star-studded cast, take on these issues in a fresh and relatable way.
The film, like the novel, takes place during the early ’90s in a suburb south of Pittsburgh. The setting has significant meaning for Chbosky, having grown up in the similar suburb of Upper St. Clair. This personal connection shows in the cinematography with the dreamy shots of the Pittsburgh skyline contrasted with the homey, sentimental view of the suburbs.
Pittsburgh natives will find themselves nostalgic over many local filming locations such as Peters Township High School, the suburbs of Upper St. Clair and Bethel Park, the Hollywood Theater and the West End Overlook, as well as references to the Pittsburgh Penguins and Penn State.
This location and time period of the film allows for a different take on the high school experience by using an average town with relatively unglamorous characters. The main character, high school freshman Charlie, has just experienced a tragic summer after his best friend commits suicide, leaving him mentally unstable and without any friends.
The first few scenes of the movie progress with a shy Charlie (Logan Lerman) trying to navigate his new surroundings without drawing too much attention to himself. But after a burst of courage allows him to strike up a conversation with outspoken senior Patrick (Ezra Miller), Charlie finds himself part of a misfit group of older students trying to survive in the confines of the social structure of high school.
One of the members of this new group is Patrick’s stepsister, Sam (Emma Watson), a seemingly confident and party-loving girl with a dark past filled with promiscuity and childhood trauma. Sam and Charlie develop a connection without initially acting on it, leading to one of the major themes of “accepting the love we think we deserve.”
Along with trying to love oneself and receive love from others, there are themes of learning to accept issues of sexuality and dealing with rifts in friendships and relationships. Throughout the film, the characters teach each other life lessons through their experiences.
While the script by Chobsky is very well-written, leaving just the right amount of information out for the audience to guess, the actors are what truly bring the story to life. Lerman’s portrayal of the timid and troubled Charlie has just the right amount of innocence while hinting at a corrupted youth.
Watson’s first leading role after the “Harry Potter” series does not disappoint as she explores her complex character. Many girls can relate to her portrayal of Sam’s history of unhealthy relationships and her reluctance to accept Charlie’s genuine love.
Along with Ezra Miller’s use of comic relief to mask his inner struggle with his sexuality and the inspiring performance by Paul Rudd as Mr. Anderson, the cast of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” delves into the gritty problems teens face while keeping them relatable to everyday audiences.