“I didn’t think anyone noticed me.”
The title alone says it all: The Perks of Being a Wallflower. So what are the advantages to being a straggler who finds a place to call home in a community of outsiders? Well, as it turns out, there are quite a few, and I’d venture to guess that most of us have probably experienced them in one way or another. These young adults see each other, forge friendships, bring to light the darkest corners of their hearts, even tempt the possibility of love. Inclusivity is their instinctive method to surviving the horrors of high school’s hormonal hallways. The Perks of Being a Wallflower invites us to participate in life, to free ourselves from concern and to leave the corner of the gym to dance and to flail around at mid-court. What a beautiful and important sentiment for our young people to live and to learn.
Entering his freshman year, Charlie (Logan Lerman) literally counts the days until his graduation. And you thought waiting for the clock to signal the end of the period or the school day was excruciating. Charlie’s been through some things, which he admits as he pounds away at the old typewriter. We come to learn that he lost his favorite Aunt Helen (Melanie Lynskey) to a car accident, his best friend to suicide, and even spent time in a psych ward. These revelations unfold more and more as the story furthers itself, giving Charlie the space to speak up and to be heard. For now though, all he wants is a place to sit at in the cafeteria, fewer judgments on his bibliophile nature, and another friend besides his beloved new English Literature teacher Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd).
Charlie’s story is one filled with fearful consternation and a sad desperation until he overcomes his shyness and his fears, bravely saying hello to his shop room classmate Patrick (Ezra Miller) at the Friday night football game. Patrick is an aimless Senior student, eccentric, openly gay, as happily embrasive as he is sometimes abrasively iconoclastic. A true wallflower in his own right. Then Sam (Emma Watson) ascends the stadium stairs, lighting Charlie’s eyes on fire and sparking his heart, sitting next to him on the cheap metal seats, wondering who exactly this awkward boy might be. Patrick sympathizes with Charlie as somebody who never really feels as if he belongs. And Sam’s soft eyes empathize with the real heart of the matter; that her wolf pack of wallflowers provide the only warmth the lonesome Charlie rarely accepts. With them is the only place he feels comfortable calling home. He’s a member.
As the film blooms and blossoms, so does Charlie, uprooting himself from a shallow pot and firmly planting himself in a place where growth and harvest might be a possible reality. Some much happens to – or perhaps even for – Charlie throughout The Perks of Being a Wallflower. He stumbles upon Patrick kissing Brad (Johnny Simmons), the closeted football star. He meets the stoner Bob (Adam Hagenbuch), the wealthy kleptomaniac Alice (Erin Wilhelmi), even briefly dates the earnest, punk rock Buddhist Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman). Charlie has his first kiss, dabbles around with drugs, acts in a rendition of Rocky Horror, all while still voluntarily producing book reports. He’s a good kid who becomes a man before our very eyes. I so badly wish more movies like this one saw his severe sensitivity as a strength rather than a weakness.
There’s something so twee, so kitschy, so honestly sentimental about writer/director Stephen Chbosky’s adaptation of his own novel that it simply cannot be resisted. The use of narration borders on brilliance, the strong editing is efficient, and most of the cast – predominantly its The Breakfast Club posse of wanderers and wonderers and weirdos – are so thoroughly three-dimensional that you can practicably peel through the pages of your year book and point out each person from the picture. The film’s a hardbound time capsule, not the type you bury but the kind you leave on a shelf for future generations to hopefully pull from, and once the dust rises and the pages creak open once more you’re left swimming in a pool of memories both near and far. I’ve seen so many films like The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Very few deserve to be considered as such a seminal, landmark viewing experience.
I laughed and I cried and I burrowed my chin into the palm of my right hand, wondering how or why stories like this one seem to rarely see the light of day. Sadly, I think the reason is a lack of honesty, conviction, forthrightness. This is what The Perks of Being a Wallflower does best, and so I’ll try to summarize the picture through two immensely moving scenes. In the first, Sam challenges Charlie, her innocent eyes wondering why he never asked her out. “We accept the love we think we deserve,” he tells her, learned earlier from Mr. Anderson, culminating in a moment that’s carefully scripted and gingerly performed. I once stole this line during a dark moment with a dear friend and it helped her to power on. Only great films are able to inspire and alter reality.
It’s just so real in that way. And then the film ends on a high note, opening its arms and blaring the speakers and embracing the whip of a cool wind while Charlie confidently stands in the back of Patrick’s pickup truck as it plows through a tunnel. The Perks of Being a Wallflower doesn’t occupy a world where Spotify or Shazam or Twitter exist. It’s one where cassette mixtapes were an authorized love letter, and where the lyrics and the melody of a new song had to be remembered and relayed in hopes of discovering its origin. Every single one of us deserve our own tunnel song. These characters are young, agile, fragile. Qualities that stick with us inside even as we increasingly become stiff cadavers through age. And if you’re reading this, I hope that you find it, that you have the nerve to sing along, that the moment is as real as it is romantic. And that maybe you might have the courage to dance along for good measure. Why not?
“I feel infinite.”
Rating: 4.5 out of 5