“Why do I and everyone I love pick people who treat us like we’re nothing?” asks Sam. Charlie responds, “We accept the love we think we deserve.”
I walked into this film mostly unfamiliar with the novel it was based on. I only had positive buzz and Emma Watson as my only reasons to see it. Now having seen it, I very much would like to read the novel by Stephen Chbosky, who also wrote the screenplay adaptation and directed the film (how often does that happen?).
Logan Lerman stars as Charlie, a lonely teenager who is starting his freshman year of high school. Making friends isn’t something that’s easy for him, and his life is further complicated by a traumatic past that’s hinted at throughout the film. One night during a football game, he meets step-siblings Patrick and Sam (Ezra Miller, Emma Watson), seniors at his high school who embrace Charlie into their social group (which Sam lovingly refers to as the “island of misfit toys”). Charlie’s attraction to Sam grows, and as time passes, he begins to grow as a person and deal with the complications of being a teenager while also dealing with a past that continues to haunt him.
Logan Lerman is terrific as Charlie. He brings a vulnerability to the character that instantly makes him relatable but complex. You can sense a rage within Charlie but it is always kept subtle; lurking underneath but never uncontrollable. Chbosky deftly keeps this rage implied rather than shown. In one scene, Patrick is attacked by jocks in the cafeteria and Charlie goes to save him. We see the before and after of what Charlie did, but never the action itself. By not showing the action, the reaction shots of the students are much more powerful. I also like the way Charlie’s growth can be measured: just compare his first day in English class, where he responds to his teacher’s questions by writing the answers in his notebook (which the teacher notices), to his last day of his freshman year, where he responds to his teacher’s question by actually raising his hand. Lerman delivers an award-worthy performance here, and I hope he will appear in more good films and not crap like the Percy Jackson films and 2011’s The Three Musketeers.
Emma Watson is astounding as Sam, a character just as tormented by her past as Charlie. The pain behind her eyes is subtle; she longs to be loved and accepted for who she is and not who she was. One scene in particular stands out for me. After the Secret Santa scene, Sam invites Charlie back to her room, where she gives him a present. Then they sit on the bed, where Sam tells him that she wants to make sure that Charlie’s first kiss is with a woman who loves him. After their kiss, they declare their love for each other. There is no moment more perfect than one in which two kindred spirits find the love and happiness they’ve always yearned for. Watson shines in this scene, and it is part of what makes her performance so award-worthy.
Of course, I must mention Ezra Miller, who is outstanding as the scene-stealing Patrick. His character’s struggles are just as rough as Charlie’s and Sam’s. Patrick has a difficult relationship with a closeted football player who isn’t so keen on being open about being gay (a situation that culminates with the previously mentioned cafeteria scene). Miller’s nuanced performance here paints a picture of what it was like to be a gay teenager 20 years ago (before it became as socially acceptable as it is today).
One interesting aspect is the involvement of several of the characters (including the main ones) as members of a shadow cast for the local midnight screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. One scene shown is the one where the Rocky Horror characters become free of all inhibitions and give in to absolute pleasure. It is fitting that Sam and her friends would be involved with the shadow cast because they could be free to be who they are there without being socially persecuted. It was also fun to see Charlie become involved in a later scene as a last-minute replacement.
Stephen Chbosky has put together an impressive supporting cast. Dylan McDermott and Kate Walsh as Charlie’s parents, Melanie Lynskey as Aunt Helen, Nina Dobrev as Charlie’s sister, Paul Rudd as Mr. Anderson (Charlie’s English teacher), Mae Whitman as Mary Elizabeth, Tom Savini as Mr. Callahan (Charlie and Patrick’s shop teacher) and Joan Cusack as Dr. Burton. The film also boasts terrific cinematography by Andrew Dunn, a terrific score by Michael Brook, and Chbosky did an excellent job adapting his own novel and directing the actors. If you haven’t already seen this film, you need to ask yourself ‘What are you waiting for?’ Go out and see it!