Being a freshman in high school is hard enough but Charlie seems to be having more trouble finding his place than most. One his first day, the only friend he makes is his English teacher. Though still alone, he goes to a football game and spots Patrick. Moving up the stands to talk to him, their conversation sparks something unexpected…an opportunity to meet Sam. Charlie gets to go to his first party, which is filled with all sorts of new experiences but, best of all, a new set of friends. As the school year continues, Charlie’s life seems to keep getting better and better. His friendship gives him the acceptance he had been craving and Sam stirred feelings in him that he did not know he would ever experience. But just as things seem to be getting better, his past catches back up with him and he has to try to reconcile who he is with who is used to be.
Starring: Logan Lerman (Charlie), Ezra Miller (Patrick), Emma Watson (Sam), Mae Whitman (Mary Elizabeth), Nina Dobrev (Candace), Dylan McDermott (Father), Kate Walsh (Mother), Paul Rudd (Mr. Anderson), Tom Savini (Mr. Callahan), Johnny Simmons (Brad), Nicholas Braun (Ponytail Derek), Julia Garner (Susan), Adam Hagenbuch (Bob), Erin Wilhelmi (Alice), Reece Thompson (Craig), Zane Holtz (Chris), Landon Pigg (Peter), Melanie Lynskey (Aunt Helen), Joan Cusack (Dr. Burton)
Movies like this bring out the opportunity for young talents to shine. Lerman plays the shy but powerful lead, bringing a sense of both sensitivity and complexity to the character. Watson is a more typical from her love interest role, but even she is able to give the feeling that there is something deeper to her character’s past than gets discussed. Miller begins as a fun-loving sidekick but is able to also play into the roller coaster of drama that weaves him together with Lerman and Watson.
Stephen Chbosky’s adaptation of the hit novel combines a desire to be accepted and to escape a painful past. On the side of acceptance, Charlie’s past prevented him from feeling like he had a place where he belonged. Being so isolated, he had focused in on success at school and working at his desire to be a writer. Getting a sense that Patrick was an approachable person, Charlie took a chance and found him accepted into a group of “social outcasts.” To them, it did not matter. When the relationships became complicated between Charlie, Sam and Mary Elizabeth, the group found itself at odds and struggling for a sense of understanding. Charlie stepping in to save Patrick from the harassment and aggression of the jocks led to his re-acceptance to the group. While all of his friends from his freshman year were going to be moving on to the next stage of their lives, he found solace in the fact that he made real human connections.
The other side of the story was a much darker one, full of pain and repressed agony. Charlie’s story was the most prominent but it was also kept incomplete until his full breakdown near the end of the film. Sexual abuse seemed to be a theme for both Charlie and Sam, but Charlie came along with an additional element of guilt due to the death of his aunt after having promised to keep their activities a secret. Having repressed the full memory, little interactions throughout the film hinted at how significant his past was in shaping who he had become and his fear with getting too close to others. For Sam, her story was kept relatively brief, though her sexual abuse also involved older individuals. Patrick’s story added a whole new element of pain with his somewhat hidden relationship with Brad, who was keeping his sexuality hidden from others at school and his family. When Brad became exposed to his father, it led to a pattern of regret and hopelessness in Patrick that was not easily remedied.
While the film was met with mixed reviews, there was a lot of depth in the character development that makes this more than just a worthwhile story. Though it is a little lighter than the book and suffers from periodic tangents, this film rises above many others of its genre.
Dan’s Rating: 4.0/5