The key characters all go through transformative experiences during the year, with Patrick dealing with a closeted gay relationship and its repercussions, Sam suffering through an abusive romance as proof of Charlie’s adopted motto “we find the love we think we deserve”, and Charlie relapsing into a full mental breakdown before finally facing his childhood demons and preparing for the rest of high school without his graduating friends. Charlie’s psychosis is never clearly defined until near the end of the film, leaving viewers in the dark about its origin as we’re fed morsels of recurring and progressively lengthening flashbacks until the horrible truth becomes clear. That withholding makes it hard for us to understand Charlie in the early going, and calls into question the truth of his motivations and even the unsubstantiated story of his best friend’s suicide. While we eventually learn the facts, the prolonged confusion leaves a question mark hanging over the character for much of the film, taking away from his validation as a worthy protagonist.
The three lead actors are great in their roles, with Miller an especially magnetic presence as he asserts himself as one to watch in years to come. Lerman does a fine job with the emotional range of his role, while Watson proves she’s more than Hermione. It’s helpful for authenticity that the actors are actually close to high school age for a change, with Lerman and Miller barely out and Watson within a few years. The rest of the cast doesn’t get much screen time but supports their limited roles well, led by Mae Whitman (Parenthood) as another misfit friend and Nina Dobrev (The Vampire Diaries) as Charlie’s concerned sister. Chbosky proves to be adept at marshalling his young cast through the spectrum of teen emotions and gives them room to contribute memorable work.
DVD bonus features are headlined by a sizeable assortment of deleted scenes, along with a making-of featurette where Chbosky raves about his cast and comments multiple times about the surreal and rewarding experience of directing them through a prom scene that functioned as their actual prom since all of these former child actors never went to real high school.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is available on DVD, Blu-ray and digital rental on Tuesday, February 12th.