I am a sucker for coming of age films. Perhaps because I failed to come of age myself during that developmental period, I have a particular fascination for the genre. I try to see them all. This one is a real gem.

Four elements make Perks of Being a Wallflower terrific.

First, the novel-based story. Perks tells the story of a mysteriously troubled incoming high school freshman in the Pittsburgh suburbs. What unfolds is unexpected, and his journey is told in a most sure-handed almost documentary way with close attention to 1990’s details (when the film is set).

Second, the actors are terrific. Logan Lerman (from Percy Jackson) successfully straddles confidence and doubt as he discovers the truth about what is bugging him. Harry Potter’s Emma Watson perfectly captures the outcast-hipster Smiths-lover who becomes the object of Charlie affections. Those two along with Ezra Miller, who plays the confidently gay Patrick, shoulder the bulk of the films narrative and have a real ensemble chemistry between them.

But much credit for the movie’s overall tone (third element) belongs to first-time director/screenwriter/author Stephen Chbosky. Chbosky perfectly captures the pluses and minuses of upper-middle-class suburban life. Wanting to be cool and alienation goes hand in hand with long driveways and cul-de-sacs. Camera angles and set-pieces (the “Heroes” tunnel sequence in particular)  keeps this tired genre fresh.  In less capable hands this movie could be a real slice of stereotypical banality.

Finally, the fourth element that elevates the film is the super-cool 90s alternative rock soundtrack. An essential part of the book,  the mixtapes, is also a big part of the movie. Making 90s band The Smiths part of the plot ensure light is shined on some of the quality music from that era. The soundtrack of super cool melancholia and hope infused tunes give the film an added dimension that might be missing with less astute song choices.

Overall, very entertaining. Well done.

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