Perks of Being a Wallflower is a film that gets high school right.
Much like any teenager in the high school world it portrays, Perks of Being a Wallflower displays a vast array of emotions. It’s a film driven by its characters, and your ability to like the movie really depends on whether you can — or perhaps want to — relate to them.
Can you relate to Sam’s happiness when she finally gets into Penn State? Do you know what it’s like to have a crush on a senior girl like Charlie? Have you felt completely down in the dumps, like Patrick, following a breakup? If you understand or know or can remember the emotions related to these events, then you are likely to get at least some enjoyment out of Perks of Being a Wallflower. And the degree to which you can relate may very well be portentous of your enjoyment of the film.
Perks of Being a Wallflower tells the story of a boy named Charlie (Logan Lerman), fresh-faced and relatively naïve, who enters the big bad world of high school. He is a freshman, lacking in both friends and social skills, a downtrodden boy who just wants to fit in with someone.
Enter Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller), step-sibling seniors who take Charlie under their collective wings. The former is a one-time wild child girl with a funky taste in music and a penchant for dating bad guys, and the latter is a flamboyant gay boy who has yet to pass 9th grade woodshop and who also performs a rendition of the Rocky Horror Picture Show at a local theater. The three are almost nothing alike and yet have much in common, easily able to relate to each other’s emotions and enjoy each others’ company.
Sam and Patrick take Charlie to his first high school party. There, he meets a host of fellow students, including Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman), Alice (Erin Wilhelmi), and many others who seem to share the role of perpetual outsider. The Wallflowers, as Sam unofficially dubs them. At the party, Charlie has his first real taste of high school, gets high for the first time, and is officially welcomed in as a member of this quirky group of individuals.
Charlie also befriends his English teacher Mr. Anderson, played by Paul Rudd, who gives Charlie reading assignments throughout the school year above and beyond those in the syllabus. Charlie likes to read, and he likes to write as well. The other students find this weird, but Charlie enjoys it.
But make no mistake, Charlie and company struggle with their demons as well. Charlie suffers from some form of depression and works hard to fight off his own heavy demons, while also seeking to combat those of Sam and Patrick. Sam is struggling to get good enough test scores to get into the college of her choice — while everyone else around her succeeds — and Patrick, though flamboyant and happy to be “out,” is often bullied by the more popular kids in school.
There is no doubt in my mind that this is a story close to the heart of writer-director Stephen Chbosky, a fact made even clearer when you realize that he, too, wrote the novel that the film is adapted from. He has taken much care to tell his story the way it was intended, so as not to fall into the hands (or the mind) of anyone who may tarnish it. A good choice by Chbosky, in my opinions, and on the whole, I really liked this movie.
Near as I can tell, Chbosky’s film gets high school right. Our teenage years are often awkward and clunky, and we all find it hard to fit in at some time or another. Perks does an excellent job of portraying that. It’s very much a movie about finding yourself and being who you really are, and I think that’s an extremely important lesson, especially in today’s times.
The acting here is top-notch, especially from the three-headed monster of Lerman, Watson, and Miller. One or two of these three are likely to go on to win an Oscar some day, so now is the time to see them while they are young — though I’m sure many of you have seen lots of Watson from her Harry Potter days. Still, I’d recommend watching this over the Harry Potter films every day of the week. The performances from these three are too good to pass up.
When its characters were happy, I was happy. And when they were sad, I felt for them — not just because they were sad, but because I could relate. Something I remember from high school is that no matter who you are — jock, prep, punk, goth, hipster, nerd, or what have you — you still have real, human emotions, emotions that don’t care about your label. Just because you are popular, or get good grades, or are a great trumpet player, doesn’t mean that you are suddenly exempt from feeling sad or depressed or alone at times. And Perks gets that across very well, even though its three main characters are actually outsiders.
But herein, I think, lies the real message of the film: No matter the day, no matter the circumstance, be yourself, and surround yourself with those who make you happy. It makes the bad days much, much easier to get through, and makes the good days far more enjoyable.