It's fairly common for screenwriters to go to the dark side (turn director), but a novelist who adapts his successful novel for the screen, and then actually directs the movie? Almost unheard of. But audiences at "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" may wonder why that is, because in the case of the debuting filmmaker Stephen Chbosky, it all makes perfect sense.
In translating his story -- which is principally about Charlie (Logan Lerman), a new freshman whose best friend has inexplicably killed himself, leaving Charlie at very loose ends -- Chbosky has just the right sense, and sensibility: High school -- and the teen years in general -- is a series of minor tragedies, small epiphanies, brushes with joy, skirmishes with pain, all adding up to something delightfully awful, and delightful to be done with. The film makes all that make perfect sense in a way very few movies in its genre do.
Much has been made about "Perks" because it introduces a post-"Harry Potter" Emma Watson to the screen, and she's good. As Sam, the quasi-bad girl trying to reinvent herself before college, she brings honesty and a lack of cliche to a character who might have been a standard-issue student. But equally fine are her co-stars: Ezra Miller, who plays the gay character Patrick as something messy and unusual; Paul Rudd, as their English teacher, is refreshingly thoughtful. And Charlie is portrayed by Lerman as quietly observant, yearning and delicate in a way that will click with audiences regardless of age.
The story is set in the '90s, and the fashion and music reflect that, but unlike so many teenager films, "Perks" doesn't live or die by its set design and score, but by something more central to the experience of growing up, and growing out. Regardless of the viewer's proximity to his or her own high school experience, "Perks" seems to get it right, precisely because it's not about a specific time or place.
PLOT Misfit teen is taken under the wing of his spiritual/social compatriots, who help him deal with suicide, longing and the inherent agonies of high school. RATING PG-13 (adult content, sexual content, drug use)
PLAYING AT Cinema Arts Centre, Huntington
BOTTOM LINE Sensitive, humorous, well-drawn character study that should resonate with everyone