The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Over the summer, Charlie (Logan Lerman) is hospitalized due to what sounds like a suicide attempt. He writes a letter to a friend and claims that he is very anxious about his first day as a high school freshman because he does not want people think of him as “that weird kid who spent time in a hospital.” His situation isn’t helped by the fact that he has an introverted personality and he finds it difficult to make friends. For a while, Charlie struggles to find a connection with his peers until he meets outgoing Patrick (Ezra Miller) and empathic Sam (Emma Watson), seniors, at a football game.
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” based on the novel, screenplay, and directed by Stephen Chbosky, is one of the reasons why I believe that coming-of-age movies are immortal. Although the story attempts to tackle familiar elements, like teenagers feeling alienation and isolation, such are expanded upon in ways that are refreshing and exciting. Furthermore, it is executed with a genuine love for its characters and it challenges us to deconstruct our notions about convenient labeling.
The commonalities among Charlie, Patrick, and Sam are rendered beautifully but never obvious. As young adults still trying to figure out who they are, we watch them get into situations that are out of their control and their forthcoming struggles. Charlie remains to grieve over his best friend’s death, Patrick falls for a boy who isn’t out of the closet (Johnny Simmons), and Sam strives to put her life back on track despite a reputation that followed her throughout high school. Because Chbosky takes the time for us to understand the trio’s messy pasts, their current but constantly evolving wants and needs, and what they wish to accomplish in the future, we eventually grow to want what is best for them. By the end, it feels like we know these characters as people who live and breathe instead of cardboard caricatures that happen to be in a movie with a light yellow glow wrapped in a melancholy tone.
In theory, the material at times should have collapsed under its own earnestness. Too much narration and the screenplay might have told more than shown; too much soundtrack and it might have come off as syrupy or serve as padding when the characters ought to be talking to one another. Instead, the aforementioned techniques are used only during the right moments as to highlight an insight or trend in order to enhance our experience toward familiarizing ourselves with what is at stake for each respective character. Since the material has the necessary focus to tell its story, there is a rhythm in the small and critical revelations sans ostentatiousness that distracts.
Despite having a main character that has thoughts about ending his life, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” aims to instill hope and live one’s life no matter what one’s age. It isn’t without genuine moments of comedy. The late night reenactments of Jim Sharman’s “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” at a local theatre quickly comes to mind as well as Patrick’s brutally honest remarks toward his friends. With so many children and teens who decide that their life is somehow not worth living, whether it is because of bullies that make attending school feel like walking barefoot through the embers of hell or living with a secret that cannot be shared out of fear that no one can be trusted, this film is a beacon for it shows alternatives on how one can regain control of his or her life and changing it for the better. It makes the case that the foolish twiddle with their thumbs and wait for change to happen while those who choose to participate and try to implement the changes that they want to see happen are the ones who come out on top.