Week 58: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

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“We could be heroes, just for one day”
-David Bowie

For Alice Rain

We watch as 15 year old Charlie (Logan Lerman) navigates the hall on the first day of his freshman year in High School. Walking on eggshells through the jungles of ‘just another high school’, he diverts his eyes from any interested passerby while finding his desk firmly in the middle of Mr. Anderson’s (Paul Rudd) English class. Anderson quizzes the class, querying his students with one of those inane questions that teachers only seem to ask when they want to impress their students with their own knowledge.

“Can anyone tell me who invented the paperback book?” Anderson said.

Charlie scribbles the answer hastily in his notebook before pausing to wonder if anyone is taking the time to notice. He peers straight ahead, concentrating on the blackboard before him as if there were some holographic mirage embedded in the yellow chalk that slashes through the forest green of the blackboard. His scribble is correct: Charles Dickens invented the paperback novel. Charlie doesn’t raise his hand, rejecting the opportunity to gain extra credit, impress his new teacher, or get recognized as intelligent by his peers. He just sits and idly looks forward, hoping that the teacher- nay, no one, will notice; it is as if he is hiding in plain sight, a translucent rare flower pressed against an everyday wall, as if it belonged there.

Steven Chboksy’s film adaptation of his novel The Perks of Being A Wallflower, is great because it completely understands the subjects it takes the time to observe. It is a movie of unflinching truth, realism and beauty- the kind of picture that makes you cry not out of sadness, or even happiness- but recognition. This one gets it right.

Stop. Think about when you were fifteen years old. Contemplate it. Swim in the recesses of your memories. What emotions come back? Do you remember the trepidation you felt when trying to figure out where you would sit in the lunch room? Did you ever know the answer to a question in class to intentionally not answer it, as to not draw attention to yourself? Were you ever so confused and sad that you felt like you couldn’t, under any circumstance, face your peers the next day in the hallway? Certainly there was the girl.. or the boy, that probably got away. Perhaps you are Facebook friends now or distant acquaintances; perhaps you have not seen them in years, but find yourself thinking of their face in passing randomly throughout your day. I am sure as you read this someone comes to mind. I am positive that we have all felt these emotions, regardless of how popular or unpopular we may have been growing up. If you were an outcast you probably longed for acceptance; If you were popular, I bet you did everything you could to not lose it. There is one universal truth to adolescence. Growing up sucks, and friends are the only thing that make it bearable.

Charlie, our fifteen year old major depressive hero that just happens to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder as well as repressed memories, is fortunate enough to find a group of people that he can connect with. At a football game he meets Patrick (Ezra Miller), a gay senior that flamboyantly seeks attention in class to mask his own sense of alienation. Patrick introduces Charlie to his stepsister Sam (Emma Watson, as lovely as ever), who seems to immediately accept Charlie’s presence without really acknowledging it. Teenagers have a tendency to do that. You will be hanging out with one person, they will introduce you to someone else, and before you know it you are all drinking beers (or taking bong hits) without even the slightest introduction. Sam, Patrick and Charlie spend the night talking about music- that great leveler that brings so many of us together. They discuss their favorite songs, bands, lyrics and what those lyrics mean to them. Their conversation is as rich as any I have had in real life– forcing me to recall countless nights of swapping CD’s, and listening to different artists with friends. Never has a song sounded more beautiful than when experienced through one headphone, with a best friend using the other.

Charlie is invited to a party and given some extra-special brownies. The movie is smart because it never shows us the (non-existent) “dangers of pot.” It doesn’t overplay the drug angle, or even use it for comedic effect. It is what it is. Charlie is stoned, and wants a milkshake. He asks Sam to make it for him. As she interrogates him about his experiences of the evening, Charlie lets his guard down:

“So, I’m guessing you’ve never been high before.” Sam says.

Charlie smiles, replying “No. No, no, no. My best friend, Michael, his dad was a big drinker, so he hated all that stuff. Parties too.”

“Well, where is Michael tonight?”

“Oh, he shot himself last May. I kinda wish he’d left a note. You know what I mean?”

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It is in scenes like this that The Perks of Being a Wallflower reveals its greatness. Sam doesn’t immediately grab Charlie and hug him, tear up, or intervene. She hands him the milkshake and behind his back tells Patrick that they had to adopt Charlie as their friend. Patrick agrees and Charlie is accepted into a group that will become the strongest friendships of his life. The film is so impeccable due to its accuracy. Acquaintances hang out- friends know you as you really are. Chbosky understands that this difference is everything in the world.

I love this movie, and I love the book that inspired it. Chbosky was given the rare opportunity to direct and adapt his own novel- which, let’s face it- is something unheard of in modern Hollywood. He cast actors that were respected but (with the exception of Watson) not necessarily well known. Every character is realized, every scene alive, fresh, and most importantly: real. This is a movie that every high-schooler should see; one that parents should share with their children.

I wrote earlier of the importance of acceptance. I think that is what this movie is really about: accepting truths, accepting who you are and where you belong in this insane planet of ours- accepting the differences of others. Patrick is gay, and while he is loved by his boyfriend Brad (Johnny Simmons), he is not accepted by him until late in the picture. Charlie must watch his sister Candace (Nina Dobrev) get hit by her boyfriend only to kiss him later. Charlie dumps one girl by inadvertently showing his true feelings for another, only to be accepted back into the circle after some cooling off time. Parents accept their child, in spite of his sickness and isolation. Some of the teenagers steal, some lie and fabricate stories compulsively, some sleep around, some dress in drag and dance to Rocky Horror: the picture works because it demonstrates that once you determine labels (slut, jock, hick, homo, clepto, nerd, psycho) cease to matter– well, anyone can really be friends with anyone- can’t they? It is once we stop caring what others think and be honest that people will truly care about us.

This is also a film about letting go of the past, about sharing and accepting repressed memories. It is about growing up knowing nothing about yourself and beginning to figure it out. It is about understanding that we all have trauma, all make mistakes, and all need forgiveness and acceptance.

I read one of those trite business articles the other day about how to “win friends and influence people.” Normally pieces like this get under my skin in their arrogance– but this one actually had a great piece of advice: one that I now know I have actually been following for several years now. The article said, almost profoundly: “Making friends is easy. All you have to do is show interest in people.” The more I think about it, the more I realize it is true. We pass wallflowers every day, at work, school, even walking around town. Some of the wallflowers we pass may even live in our own homes– our familiarity with our family members can cause them to change below the radar so that we don’t even recognize we are losing our connections with them. It is our responsibility as members of a collective community to go the people we meet and say “Hey. How are you” and actually care about the answer. It is only when we do this- when we accept those around us in spite of their perceived flaws and inadequacies, that we grow as human beings. That is a hell of an important lesson– and this movie teaches it.

I shared this movie with my fiancée recently. By the end, she was in tears. She couldn’t articulate completely why– but she said to me “that is a movie that I can relate to.” This i the greatest “high school film” I have ever seen.

This film, in my opinion, has one of the finest last lines in all of cinema. Our heroes are driving through a tunnel, with the windows open and their bodies stretching out of the vehicle to feel the wind of the open evening.

” Right now we are alive and in this moment I swear we are infinite.”

I watch the ending and, even if I do not cry, I feel a swell in my heart. I was fifteen once. My daughter is twelve now. I had my friends. She has hers. I think of long telephone conversations into the night, discussions of movies, music and books. I think of how much I didn’t want to appear smart in English class, and regret not answering more questions.  I remember relationships and how important they were to me on those amazing endless nights with the few friends that really knew me and loved me anyway- those nights when we were infinite. I look at my daughter, in all of her unimaginable beauty and complexity, and hope she gets the same.

Review and Analysis by Shaun Henisey
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Cast and Credits:
Charlie: Logan Lerman
Sam: Emma Watson
Patrick: Ezra Miller
Mom: Kate Walsh
Dad: Dylan McDermott
Mr. Anderson: Paul Rudd

Summit Entertainment presents a film written and directed by Stephen Chbosky based on his novel.

Running Time: 103 minutes. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, drug and alcohol use, sexual content including references, and a fight — all involving teens

 

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