I got to see this limited release movie a few weeks ago, and I loved it! I don’t think I’d been so moved by a movie I saw at the theater since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind. This movie sucked me in from the first moment.
It’s based on a young adult novel of the same name. The director/screenwriter of the film is also the author of the book. It’s obvious the film was a labor of love. Nothing felt rushed or inauthentic. Every character was well-rounded and had a rich history. And lots of attention was paid to the mood and tone. Watching the movie felt like reading a really good book.
The story is set in the early nineties but the movie doesn’t go overboard with the costumes or props to make the point. There is plenty of flannel and characters make mix tapes on cassettes for each other instead of playlists. But it didn’t feel like it was hitting you over the head and screaming “this is set in the nineties!”
The movie centers on Charlie, who is just beginning his freshman year of high school. Charlie is a loner but not by choice. He’s the kind of kid who goes unnoticed by his classmates unless it’s to dump his books on the floor. He is played by Logan Lerman with just the right mix of sweetness, trepidation, and fragility.
Charlie’s only friend committed suicide over the summer. It’s implied that Charlie too suffers from mental and emotional issues. He is so guarded and repressed that just saying hello to someone is a big deal. Which is why it’s so compelling when he does. He tentatively reaches out to a couple of other outsiders and they take him under their wings. They recognize that he needs to belong to a group, even if he doesn’t know how. Each of his new friends is harboring their own secrets and past damage. They’re somehow both the typical self-centered teenagers and at the same time genuinely compassionate. Charlie soon develops feelings for Sam, played by Emma Watson, who’s dealing with her own issues of self-worth and trust. But it’s Patrick, played by Ezra Miller, who nearly steals the entire movie. He plays an out, and persecuted for it, gay teen. He cover his vulnerability with confidence and glibness. And he gets all the best lines.
None of the relationships in the movie are easy summarize. It’s not “he likes her, but she likes someone else.” The ways the characters relate to each other are incredibly complex, and so very real. Charlie’s new friends pull him out of his shell little by little, and give him hope, but there is a ticking clock throughout. All of his new friends are seniors and he’s a freshman. In a few months they will leave him behind, pulling away his lifeline. I was thoroughly invested in whether he’d make it without them.
I don’t want to make it sound like an after school special. There is quite a lot of serious ground covered, and a plot twist near the end is gut wrenching, but there’s also a lot of humor in his friends’ antics and his awkwardness. And also several moments of catharsis. I fell in love with this movie. The novel has been sitting in my audiobook library for a while. I’ll be bumping it up a few slots.