If you have to adapt arguably the most beloved coming-of-age novel published in the last two decades, this is the way to do it. The Perks of Being a Wallflower author Stephen Chbosky wrote and directed the adaptation himself, ensuring that while not all of his novel made it to the screen—that would be impossible, even though Wallflower is relatively slender—the soul of the book made the transition intact.
Charlie (Logan Lerman, a bit player proving he can carry an entire movie on his narrow shoulders) is a young man with a history of mental-health problems barely surviving his first day as a freshman at a new high school. Despite having the coolest English teacher in the world (Paul Rudd, obviously), Charlie hasn't made any friends until he falls in with Patrick (Ezra Miller, unspeakably pretty) and Sam (Emma Watson, unspeakably poised), a pair of outcast seniors who introduce him to drugs, sex, and rock and roll. Not in that order.
It shouldn't surprise anyone that Chbosky is a writerly director, focusing on his actors' faces as they deliver his dialogue and using the camera to shape the themes of the book. An opening scene showing a tunnel and night sky rushing by, presumably observed from the back of a car, is interesting enough, but it gains resonance as the movie goes on. Charlie's many secrets unfold in jagged flashbacks that emulate the digression-happy letters that make up the novel.
Through it all, the actors acquit themselves with grace and style. Watson, especially, manages to avoid the dreaded manic-pixie-dream-girl trap by playing Sam straight. And when the story necessarily moves into melodramatic territory—we are dealing with teenagers, after all—the characters wryly note that their lives are just like an "after-school special." That's okay; real life is like that sometimes.