'Perks of Being a Wallflower' is a mixed blessing

Logan Lerman and Emma Watson star in 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower,' a film adapted from the novel by Steven Chbosky.
  • USA TODAY Review: **1/2 stars out of four
  • Stars: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Dylan McDermott
  • Rated PG-13; running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes; opens Friday in select cities

Novelists don't often adapt their personal works to film.

Perhaps there's a reason for that.

Steven Chbosky, author of the young-adult best seller The Perks of Being a Wallflower (* * 1/2 out of four, rated PG-13; opening Friday in select cities), has taken that bold step, with mixed results.

While he would seem the best person to adapt his semi-autobiographical yarn, the film version has the familiar feel of other coming-of-age tales of smart, misfit high schoolers. These suburban Pittsburgh teens stumble on each other and, in the process, find themselves.

There's an appealing earnestness in segments, with a standout performance by Ezra Miller as Patrick, the flamboyant half brother of Sam, played by Harry Potter's Emma Watson. As Sam, a variation on the indie-film archetype of manic pixie dream girl, Watson proves she can do more than play brainy British witch Hermione Granger.

Logan Lerman plays Charlie, a sensitive lad reeling from the deaths of his best friend and beloved aunt. He's also traumatized by a terrible betrayal that took place in early childhood. He becomes besotted with Sam, who in turn falls for a college guy. Meanwhile, artsy-punk Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman) develops a crush on Charlie and turns out to be far more conventional than her garb would indicate.

The wittiest of the troop, Patrick calls their coterie "the island of misfit toys." His is the most convincing performance. Besides being a talented actor, at 19, Miller is also the closest in age to the high school senior character he's playing, which perhaps lends additional credibility. Patrick has a clandestine romance with football star Brad (Johnny Simmons) and then is gay-bashed by jocks in the school cafeteria. His asides are tossed off naturally: "My life is now officially an After School Special," he quips.

Charlie gets kicked out of the misfit club when he kisses Sam and dumps Mary Elizabeth. As a result of being ostracized, his already tenuous psychological state deteriorates, and that's when the film becomes substantially darker.

The film's big reveal is far graver than any of the well-trod teen angst turf that came before it. Though he initially doesn't seem such a troubled soul, by the film's climax, Lerman conveys the depths of his traumatized state.

While there are humorous and poignant moments, this angst-filled story of tender kisses, awkward dances, friends drifting apart, kindly English teachers, unrequited crushes and drug-addled partying has a nagging sense of deja vu.