At first glance, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is no different than your typical angsty teenager movie. It features a cast of wacky kids who don’t really fit in with any particular clique, but find common ground in their differences—there’s the gay one, the unconventionally pretty one, the stoner, the goth, the shy one and more—but the film isn’t your run-of-the-mill teenager movie. It neither romanticizes nor demonizes the teenage years, but instead looks at them as what they are: a learning experience where children become adults and begin to discover themselves, find happiness and learn what’s truly important in life. The Perks of Being a Wallflower knows what it’s like to be a teenager, from the highs to the lows to everything in between, and it handles all of it delicately and deliberately. It’s one of the best of the year.
The film begins with Charlie (Logan Lerman), a friendless teenage boy who is entering high school for the first time. He’s a bright and loving kid, but has never found anyone outside of his family that is willing to accept him (as he says early on, he’s both happy and sad, wishing only to make a friend). However, he soon meets a senior named Patrick (Ezra Miller) who, for whatever reason, is stuck taking the freshman shop class. From there, he meets Patrick’s step sister, Sam (Emma Watson), along with a cast of eclectic characters who don’t care who he was or where he’s been. They just know that he’s a nice person and they instantly accept him into their group.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower could have gone incredibly wrong, but it somehow manages to do nearly everything right. The main character is lonely and friendless, but he’s not pathetic. The characters are archetypal, but they nevertheless feel real. The film is about teenage angst, but it’s never annoying. Instead, it’s a thoughtful study on what it’s like to be a teenager and all but those who coasted through their teenage years without a problem will be able to relate to it. The movie is also prophetic, but it’s never preachy. It expresses the thoughts of a teenager to beautiful effect, shown best in one scene when Charlie asks his English teacher, played wonderfully by Paul Rudd, why some wonderful people date bad people. His response is that we accept the love we think we deserve. Charlie responds, asking how someone could let that person know they deserve better, to which his teacher replies that you can’t really. You can only try. Anyone who has ever watched as their crush dated someone not good enough for them, someone who abused them or took them for granted, will find these scenes incredibly moving.
Here’s a film that knows how hard it can be for some people to make friends and how lucky we are to have them. It stresses their importance, in the way they shape our lives, influence our opinions and make us stronger. For example, Charlie never takes his newfound friends for granted. He understands his good fortune in finally finding them and will do anything to make them happy. His status as an outcast has, in a way, made him a stronger, better person than most will ever be. He never looks at the gay guy and sees him as a lesser person or the goth girl and thinks of her as weird. His timidity has nurtured a kindness in him that allows him to see past such trivial matters and into the real person underneath. He’s a wonderful character, one that is easy to root for, and the actor portraying him puts on a terrific show.
With that said, The Perks of Being a Wallflower isn’t perfect. It never really establishes a true place and time—it feels like it takes place in modern day, but the characters listen to records instead of CDs and write on typewriters instead of computers—some of the dialogue is frustratingly hipster, (which is, to be fair, indicative of many indie films) and one plot thread involving Charlie’s sister, Candace (Nina Dobrev), and her abusive boyfriend is never followed through, but despite its occasional stumble in these relatively minor areas, it succeeds where it needs to. Some of the darker plot turns are difficult to accept not because they’re out of place or unnecessary, but rather because the characters are so likable, you don’t want to see anything bad happen to them. The story and characters are relatable too, guaranteeing many of the film’s viewers will know what it’s like to feel the way they do. But the film’s intent isn’t to sadden or bring back memories from your teenage years you wish you could forget. It instead leaves you in a perpetual state of happiness, with a love and appreciation for those who love and appreciate you back, and with hope for every struggling kid who may be going through similar experiences at this very moment. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is for, but not limited to, them and it takes power away from unnecessary high school labels. When viewed from a different perspective, words like “popular” and “wallflower” take on a completely different meaning.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower receives 4.5/5