Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is set to play the Toronto Film Festival tomorrow. Press screenings are happening today. It’s a nice, public space to debut the film, which opens on September 21, but it’s also sure to be a big coming-out for star Logan Lerman, who gives a shattering performance of tenderness, emotion and, its its own way, charisma.
Lerman hasn’t been on my radar in any substantial way, really. He’s the “Percy Jackson” guy. He was good enough in “My One and Only” and certainly held his own in “3:10 to Yuma.” But I wasn’t really prepared for what he had to offer here, opposite a scenery-chewing Ezra Miller and an Emma Watson looking to put a little distance between herself and the “Harry Potter” franchise that made her.
But it’s a performance that, I think, deserves real consideration this awards season. The Best Actor race will likely shake out the way it usually does — a few obvious contenders playing roles that were half-way there on the page and maybe this wild card or that, depending on how campaigning goes — but Lerman should be in the conversation.
I never read Chbosky’s 1999 book, but I understand it has a devoted following. One of its biggest fans was Miller, in fact, who relished the opportunity to play the book’s homosexual free spirit Patrick. But it’s Lerman who kept catching my eye, finding nuance and organic humor, empathy and the right soft touches to carve out a defined portrait where a cliched protagonist could easily have emerged.
Chbosky originally thought of Lerman for Miller’s character, actually. But after the young actor begged to audition for the lead, the author/director gave him a shot.
“He was the second person who auditioned for Charlie and after him there was no other auditions,” Chbosky told me in an interview published earlier this week. “There was no need; he was perfect. Within five seconds of his audition what you saw in the movie, that was it. He had come up with this character. It got richer over time and he got more comfortable over time with the words and the place where we were shooting, but he had it. It was right.”
Was it ever. I was consistently moved by the nuance of Lerman’s work in the film, the empathy he so genuinely conveys, the way his character ultimately travels a rather expected arc without telegraphing it. His Charlie is someone I wish I knew in real life. I can’t really think of another way to put it. I also can’t think of a better compliment. He embosses the heart of the role and never in typical ways.
Lerman has another “Percy Jackson” film on the way, but he’s also working on “Noah” at the moment with director Darren Aronofsky, who certainly has an eye for talent. I’d say we’re going to hear plenty more about him in the future, and I expect I’ll always look back at “Perks” as the moment it really clicked for me.
I’ll be eager to see if others feel the same way.
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” opens September 21.