The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
Directed by Stephen Chbosky
Starring: Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller, Emma Watson
Films and television shows that are based in high school are full of cliches: the popular jocks, the geeky and socially inept nerds, the goth/punk kids, the cheerleaders, the pop-culture references and your main character just trying to find his or her place in the new school. Because of this, you can say that all high school movies are the same, but while The Perks of Being a Wallflower contains these cliches, it is unique in its narrative and exemplary in packing in the feelings and chaos to be in high school. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it pushes the model further.
Charlie (Lerman) is a freshman with a troubled past: his only friend recently committed suicide, plus he’s been going through phases of depression since his aunt passed away in a tragic car accident. His luck changes when he’s accepted into a group of nonconformist seniors who joke about being a group of “misfit toys.” Charlie’s best friends become step-siblings Sam (Watson) and Patrick (Miller). Through these friends, Charlie is introduced to music like The Smiths, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, parties, drugs, and other things rich high school kids enjoy for fun. Most importantly, for the first time in his life, Charlie feels accepted.
While Charlie is the main character, his best friends influence the movie just as much since they impact Charlie’s life in a major way. Patrick is a wild and enthusiastic teenager, one who barely squeaks by in school but is ambitious to make it in life where he feels matters. He’s also gay, but not in your Glee kind of way. He has a secret romance with the football star, but even though it’s a homosexual relationship, the ups and downs impact Patrick the same as any other.
Sam is an intelligent, kind and attractive senior who is dating a guy in college. She dealt with her demons during her early years of high school of a party-girl who turned to alcohol and sex as an outlet. But since then she’s been trying to change her image before embarking to her dream college, Penn State. The friendship between Charlie and Sam is a driving part of the film, consisting of very powerful moments but executed carefully enough to prevent it from becoming another high school movie about a geek who nabs the girl next door.
What separates The Perks of Being a Wallflower from the majority of high school stories is the dark nature that surrounds the third act. Although the film was one more emotional scar away from being a ridiculous bouquet of tragedy, everything comes together after a sudden and surprising climax. With themes of abuse, bullying, drugs, death, and depression, it’s hard to imagine a conclusion as hopeful and positive as this one, but this film actually pulls it off.
The mastermind behind everything is Stephen Chbosky, the author of the 1999 novel, the lone credit for the screenplay and the director of the movie. While nothing groundbreaking is done in terms of directorial guidance, the simple and straight-forward narrative is an essence to the movie’s success. The well-casted actors complete the puzzle to this excellent film. Logan Lerman cruised through most of the film as the quiet and conservative teenager until the final act when he really showed off his acting chops. Ezra Miller is known for his disturbing portrayal of the homicidal teen in We Need to Talk About Kevin, but here he shows a range of skill balancing his great comedic timing with true emotionally-driven scenes. And finally, Emma Watson in a role other than Hermione in the insanely popular Harry Potter series. Her job at infusing kindness and beauty in Sam while hiding the torment and troubles of her past (in significant less screen time than Charlie) is impressive. I admit I was a bit skeptical about how these three could carry a film, but they carried every ounce of the movie plus more.
For everyone, high school is a memorable time in their lives because of all the situations and feelings one goes through for the first time. You always remember the “firsts,” especially when it impacts your life in a great way. And what’s more important than the experience of love for the first time? Not the love that results in marriage, but the feeling that you truly belong somewhere and how you fully understand there are people you can call your family outside of your blood. The Perks of Being a Wallflower expresses that no matter how bad things seem, there is something better in the near future because you have a family to fall back to. No matter how many high school films are made, this is never a bad message to recite.