Charlie (Logan Lerman) is a fifteen-year-old kid who is about to begin high school, but feels great trepidation about it, and writes a letter to somebody to tell him of his reservations. He just knows that being a shy type of boy he's going to have trouble making friends, and the friends he had from before have grown apart from him, probably because he has suffered a breakdown recently thanks to the guilt he feels over the death of his beloved aunt (Melanie Lynskey), among other things. So when school commences and is indeed just as he feared, can anyone help at all?
The Perks of Being a Wallflower was a cult novel published in 1999, and such was its following that a movie version was inevitable, though interestingly the studio hired the author of the book, Steven Chbosky, to adapt the script and direct it too. Chbosky had dabbled in the visual arts before, penning the screenplay for the much-derided movie of hit musical Rent and creating the incredibly boring sci-fi wartime television series Jericho, so if you were of a mind to appreciate those you would likely get along with this better than you would otherwise. Although the text was set in the early nineties, Chbosky evidently hoped to divine a universal appeal for wallflowers everywhere.
And to an extent his ploy worked, as the film quickly gained cult status itself with not just teens but those who could relate to poor old Charlie's experiences no matter what age they were: after all, there's a lot of awkward people out there. However, dissenting voices were raised among those who recognised there was something distinctly calculated about Chbosky's efforts, as if he had drawn up a checklist of buttons to push in its audience's emotions and exactingly progressed through each with mechanical precision. Those misgivings were valid, as too much of this came across as exploitative of the kind of person who would be dangerously given to losing themselves in their problems rather than finding assistance.
Not that finding help from your troubles was the easiest thing in the world, indeed it's one of the most difficult, but the sense that Chbosky was taking advantage of the damaged souls who may be attracted to his characters was never far away. He does offer Charlie a measure of solace when he plucks up the courage to make contact with a pair of step-siblings as if their breezy rapport was something from another planet to his, and before long they have taken him under their wing, introducing him to the vital delights of having someone on your wavelength to talk to. Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller) are great, sympathetic pals, but there's an issue here when Charlie falls for the former when she is only interested in other people, preferably a boy who will treat her badly.
So you see how the characters keep making trouble for themselves - Charlie's sister (Nina Dobrev) gets beaten by her boyfriend yet sticks with him, for example - and nobody can offer them guidance, not even our hero's understanding English teacher (Paul Rudd). Even the good times of the Charlie-Sam-Patrick relationship cannot last as he manages to mess that up too, although at least Chbosky offers the teen a get out clause in that he is not entirely responsible for his actions, which would be fine except that this involves pissing on him from a great height before he can get through this rites of passage and reach a conclusion that "We are infinite", which sounds like the sort of slogan you'd find on manipulatively inspirational religious cult literature. The fact that much of Charlie's excuse is that he was sexually abused seems not a betrayal of the character, but a betrayal of the audience that the story could aim for such a cheap tactic; not that it's a subject never to be broached, but it needed an approach a lot more careful than the uneasy contrivances you got here. Music by Michael Brook.