The long awaited film adaptation of The Perks of Being a Wallflower--written and directed by the novel's author Stephen Chbosky--is a lot like an ABBA greatest hits collection. Sure, you're getting all the highlights of a fantastic career which includes the massive moments like "Dancing Queen" and "The Winner Takes It All" that made them the best pop group of all time. With a greatest hits package, however, you're only getting brief snippets of what made them so special in the first place. The highs may indeed be high, but you're missing all the subtleties and so-called "minor" moments ("As Good As New" or "Disillusion" in ABBA's case) that complete the portrait.
This is the problem that plagues Perks (and most adaptations of beloved books, actually). How do you condense a great novel into 100 minutes while retaining the tone and idiosyncrasies that made the novel work in the first place? Perks introduces a lot of the novel's various subplots but they fail to cohere, sometimes landing with a thud but mostly reeking with the feeling that it could have been handled better. One of my favorite scenes in the book is the Christmas party where the group finds out who their Secret Santas are. Charlie has bought additional gifts for everyone, gifts so thoughtful and spot on, the others realize just how much Charlie absorbs and understands about them. It's a moving moment in a book, one that deepens and solidifies what they all saw in Charlie in the first place. In the movie, though, the moment makes an appearance but doesn't hit the emotional level it could have. A lot of what is ultimately transferred from the novel are the typical, almost pandering, themes that fill most high school dramas ("Why don't I fit in?", "Who am I really?", "I can't wait to live life in the real world," "What is love?", etc.), encapsulated in almost infuriatingly simplistic catchphrases about the sadness and pain of falling in and out of love.
Thanks heavens, then, for Logan Lerman in the role of Charlie. I have heard a lot about Lerman over the past few years, but I've never had the occasion to see him in anything. Obviously, I've been missing out. First of all, his voice sounds exactly like my beloved Zac Efron's, so that was a wonderfully superficial introduction to him. Unlike Zefron in a superficially similar film like Charlie St. Cloud, however, Lerman pushes hard to make his Charlie an awkward kid with genuine social issues instead of a lovable misfit who just can't seem to connect with people. He colors in the broadly-drawn lines of the film with an emotional depth and clarity the rest of Perks lacks. Lerman's warm, expressive face has the ability to suggest both emotional tragedy and comedic lightness, often times simultaneously, without overselling either of them. He captures the opposite-sounding warm melancholic tone that is the film's strongest selling point, only punctuating the fact that 95 percent of the time Charlie is a regular fourteen year old kid with sharp pain.