(director/writer: Stephen Chbosky; screenwriter: based on the novel by Stephen Chbosky; cinematographer: Andrew Dunn; editor: Mary Jo Markey; music: Michael Brook; cast: Logan Lerman (Charlie), Emma Watson (Sam), Ezra Miller (Patrick), Dylan McDermott (Father), Kate Walsh (Mother), Paul Rudd (Mr. Anderson), Mae Whitman (Mary Elizabeth), Melanie Lynskey (Aunt Helen), Nina Dobrev (Candace), Johnny Simmons (Brad), Joan Cusack (Dr. Burton), Nicholas Braun (Ponytail Derrick), Tom Savini (Mr. Callahan), Patrick de Ledebur (senior bully), Zane Holtz (Chris), Reece Thompson (Craig), Erin Wilhelmi (Alice), Adam Hagenbuch (Bob); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Lianne Halfon/John Malkovich/Russell Smith; Summit Entertainment; 2012)

“Rings inauthentic throughout.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A cliched formulaic touchey-feely coming-of-age sappy teen film based on the popular 1999 novel by Stephen Chbosky (“The Four Corners of Nowhere”), who directs and writes the screenplay. Every character schematically serves the purpose of the agenda that “we accept the love we think we deserve.”The film rings inauthentic throughout as just so much goo, but despite all its missteps it doesn’t ring completely false till the third act where it wraps things up unconvincingly in neat bundles by dropping its bombshell and just about every devious and undeveloped character somehow gets reformed into being a better human being and better prepared to meet the challenges of the outside world. It features“Harry Potter” girl Emma Watson breaking type by playing a slut who becomes a good girl.

Introverted, lonely, smart and perceptive Charlie (Logan Lerman), an aspiring writer, writes letters in longhand to an imaginary friend, lives in a comfortable middle-class ranch home in the suburban town of Mill Grove, Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburgh, with his devout Catholic family. His sister Candace (Nina Dobrev) is a high school senior dating creepy student Ponytail Derrick (Nicholas Braun), and chooses to ignore her needy nerd brother in his time of need. The older jock brother (Zane Holtz) plays football at Penn State and though caring is too distant to be protective over his little bro, as he was when he lived at home. Charlie is anxious about starting high school as a freshman and having no friends, hoping high school will result in a better life.

Luckily Charlie, struggling to overcome a long time mental illness, gets a great English teacher (Paul Rudd), who mentors him. In shop class he strikes up a conversation with the senior gay misfit Patrick (Ezra Miller), and at a high school football game meets Patrick’s pretty senior stepsister, Sam (Emma Watson), whom he falls in love with at first sight. But she’s dating a conceited asshole college student (Reece Thompson) and the timid Charlie is afraid to ask her out thinking she’s too good for him. Friendship with these two outgoing seniors gives the loner a place to fit in and meet the siblings’ clique of friends, and by hanging out with them Charlie gets his first drug high, his first kiss and first crack at navigating the difficulty of friendships. The gist of the story is about the ups-and-downs of Charlie’s freshman year and dealing with the secret demons of his past, that include his strange relationship with his deceased Aunt Helen (Melanie Lynskey).

The pic’s most exciting moment has Sam standing in the back of her brother’s speeding pick-up truck and swinging wildly to David Bowie’s “Heroes” while going under a tunnel and with Charlie then spending the rest of his freshman year trying to find the song he doesn’t know the name of to give as a mixtape present to his secret love.

Chbosky’s book was a series of personal letters written by Charlie, but changed here to make it more cinematic by using flashbacks and a Charlie voice-over to tell his tale of how the sad-sack wallflower found himself. It depicts Charlie going from an awkward geek to someone valued as a sensitive friend with tremendous insight into someone’s pain and trials. The pic, at best, comes off as well-intentioned soap opera mush. It’s set in the early 1990s and scores with a nostalgic period detail reminder of the high school kids putting on their version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, with Charlie dressed in drag.