It's a remarkably good sign that, if you're not paying close attention, it's easy at first to miss the fact that The Perks of Being a Wallflower is set in the 1980s. Sure, there's a very standard definition television in the Kelmeckis' living room and Dexy's Midnight Runners at the school dance, but the lack of cell phones isn't glaring. I'm not sure if that's by design or because Charlie (Logan Lerman) is such an engrossing character, but it lends a timeless quality to the proceedings that sticks even once its '80s-ness becomes more obvious.
Charlie is an incoming high school freshman in a Pittsburgh suburb who is recovering from a vague nervous breakdown brought on by the death of his aunt in a car accident. He is fragile and friendless -- the sensitive writer type -- until he gets taken in by upperclassmen stepsiblings Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson), the leaders of a fringe clique that self-identifies as "The Wallflowers."
Charlie falls hard for Sam, and that is a massive part of the second and third acts, but what I liked so much about Perks is that Charlie's relationship with Patrick is equally as important to his character development as is the fact that he must come to terms with the breakdown that left him so isolated in the first place.
There have been innumerable coming-of-age films over the years. Superficially, almost all of them center on a loner/outsider like Charlie who finds meaning through a young woman that will actually give him the time of day. The Perks of Being a Wallflower does this part of things better than most and goes far beyond that template, giving rich and textured life to a cast of supporting characters that you don't normally see.