Topping teen reading lists since 1999, Stephen Chbosky’s first-person chronicle follows smart but shy student Charlie through his first year at a suburban Pittsburgh high school, as told in heartfelt letters to his anonymous friend.
Directing the screen adaptation himself, Chbosky (“sha-bos-key”) pulls off an immediate emotional coup by casting Logan Lerman as Charlie. At 10% Zac Efron and 90% wounded puppy, his charms are impossible to resist.
Lerman’s co-stars also ensure that Chbosky has his dramatic and box office bases covered.
After cornering the market in dark teenage souls from his debut in the little-seen Afterschool to his killer performance in We Need To Talk About Kevin, Ezra Miller finally gets to show a little lust for life as Patrick, the gay extrovert who brings Charlie into his inner circle.
This includes his vivacious step-sister Sam, played by Emma Watson in her first major role away from Harry Potter.
Chbosky wastes no time establishing their credentials as free spirits. Patrick, with his relentless pith and vigour, is so Wilde he’s Oscar.
Though less exhausting, Sam proves her non-squareness by hanging out of moving cars, digging The Smiths and stripping down to her fishnets once a week to play Janet in Rocky Horror singalongs at the local fleapit.
Naturally, she has Charlie at “Hello”. But while Watson convinces in terms of accent and sincerity, it’s hard to buy someone who looks as though she'd burst into tears if you took away her dolly as a former bad girl turned font of worldly wisdom.
The early 90s setting allows the angst to ebb and flow to a cool soundtrack (in what amounts to a pre-internet blog, mixtapes practically drive the plot).
But although it unfolds before texting was even invented, every line and scene ends in an emoticon.
When Charlie gets stoned for the first time, it’s totally :-D until Sam finds out what happened to his best friend :-( But at least he’s obviously found someone who gets him :-) Unfortunately she’s going out with some older, cooler dude :-(
Thus Charlie is exposed to the :-S of love in all its forms – unconditional, unrequited, unfelt and taboo - before the climactic revelation makes everyone go :-O
Paul Rudd is pick of the cliches as the token empathetic English teacher, though horror make-up legend Tom Savini's woodwork master, being neither clown nor villain, is a rather pointless wink to the past. And of course, no teen flick is complete without that most indefinable of cinematic smileys, the snow angel.
As John Hughes showed back in the Eighties, the best teen movies are in and of their own generation. Given the time it portrays, Wallflower may turn out to be held in higher regard by those who grew up with the Brat Pack than the Twilight mob.
With few memorable moments and nothing especially new to say, it's no era definer. But the leading trio and soapily watchable tone make it worth coming out of your room for.