The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Sam and Charlie share a moment on a staircase in The Perks of Being a Wallflower

“I can see it. This one moment when you know you’re not a sad story. You are alive, and you stand up and see the lights on the buildings and everything that makes you wonder. And you’re listening to that song and that drive with the people you love most in this world. And in this moment I swear, we are infinite.”

Teen movies usually paint with a pretty broad brush, trying to capture the feeling of youth for as many people as possible. I look at other films like Say Anything or The Breakfast Club and I feel like most of us can relate to what was going on. The Perks of Being a Wallflower breaks this mold by showing us a very distinct subculture of intellectual misfits trying to figure out life while surviving high school. Written and directed by Stephen Chbosky (who also wrote the novel on which this is based, as well as Wonder) and starring Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, this is a sharp departure from the feel-good teen movies I grew up with in the 80s and 90s. Depression, abuse, and trauma are just a few of the subjects touched on, and these things have marked each of the main characters, although the film makes a great effort to show that hurting people still manage to live mostly normal lives. This is a different kind of teen movie that probably doesn’t have the wide appeal of some of the others, but it’s a beautiful story that hit pretty close to home for me. I absolutely loved this film.

The story focuses on Charlie, a shy, intelligent high school freshman recovering from some recent severe emotional trauma. The film doesn’t state it clearly, but the book tells us that he had taken a year off from school to deal with the trauma, and as a result, he doesn’t feel close to anybody and has trouble making friends. Two eccentric seniors, Patrick and Sam, take Charlie under their wing and invite him into their world of obscure music, classic books, and Rocky Horror Picture Show screenings. It seems Charlie has found true friends. But the friends are not perfect, and Charlie is dealing with his own shortcomings as well that cause some tension. Additionally, pain and heartbreak from the past is catching up to the characters, despite their best efforts to ignore it.

Sam, do you think if people knew how crazy you really were, no one would ever talk to you?

I’ve seen a lot of teen movies, but this one hit me deeper than any of them. I was never the popular kid in school. While just about every teen movie will attempt to show that their protagonist is not the cool kid, just about every teen protagonist is actually very likeable and composed. Charlie is exceptionally bright, but is also painfully shy and awkward—so much so that I was cringing in a few scenes. He really has no idea how to handle life, and he really is ostracized by everyone except his oddball friends (and his family, who is very kind and supportive). I’ve watched a lot of teen movies and said, “I like this character,” but I’ve watched very few and said, “I am this character.” I have a lot in common with Charlie, and neither of us have a lot in common with the average teenager. That was a major risk taken by this film, and it paid off in a big way.

Sam feels the wind in her hair in the back of a truck in The Perks of Being a Wallflower
My one quibble with this film: did it seriously take them a whole school year to figure out that song was “Heroes” by David Bowie? What kind of hipsters are they?

The mood of this film is interesting. There’s a lot of fun being had and hijinks that ensue for the characters, but we see very clearly that this group of friends is a safe harbor for each of them. The rest of the world, whether it’s classmates, loved ones, or random strangers, is largely cruel and uncaring. There are some very dark moments here. But when these friends come together, they’re able to forget about how much life sucks and just have fun for a short while. And in that respect, this is one of the most realistic teen movies I’ve ever seen. Life may suck, but it doesn’t stop for anybody. When life hits hard, you have to adapt, and that’s exactly what each of these teens has learned to do. There are also some moments that are genuinely happy, even inspiring. The range of emotions in this film is staggering, and it all seems very natural.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a teen movie that may not be for everybody, but it really hits home for the people it’s made for. Trauma and pain are rarely handled with such care as they are in this film, and that’s not even the focal point for most of the movie. As I said, I loved this film, and it sets a new standard for realism in teen films (for a small subset of teens, of course). If you liked The Catcher in the Rye, give this film a chance. It will probably be right up your alley.

View my complete list of classic, essential, or just plain good movies!

Runtime: 1:42
Director: Stephen Chbosky
Year: 2012
Genres: drama, LGBT, romance, teen
Rating: PG-13

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