“So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad, and I’m still trying to figure out how could that be.”
If the film version of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” had to be summed up in a simple sentence or two, this quote from the protagonist, Charlie, would be the perfect choice. This movie is about capturing a feeling, but it isn’t simple.
It’s about capturing an era in life — a time of teenage confusion when everything is somehow simultaneously happy and sad and exciting and depressing and as dramatic as possible. And by the end, it’s still not figured out. But it’s still life, for better or worse.
This 2012 indie film tells the story of high school freshman Charlie, played by Logan Lerman. He’s an outsider, and his first days of high school are rough, to say the least. He connects with step-siblings Patrick and Sam, played by the fantastic Ezra Miller and the fresh-from-”Harry-Potter” fame Emma Watson. Their group of “misfit” friends accepts the newcomer with open arms, even though all are seniors and longtime companions. With them, Charlie experiences the angst of being a teenager and learns about how to “participate in life.”
Maybe that sounds like your typical, clichéd teenage movie, and maybe at moments it was. However, this movie overall made me feel like I was re-experiencing my high school years.
John Anderson of Newsday had a similar impression. “High school — and the teen years in general — is a series of minor tragedies, small epiphanies, brushes with joy, skirmishes with pain, all adding up to something delightfully awful, and delightful to be done with. The film makes all that make perfect sense in a way very few movies in its genre do,” wrote Anderson.
“Wallflower” is based on a 1999 young adult novel by Steven Chbosky. Interestingly enough, he wrote the screenplay and directed the movie. I have not read the book, but I do know that Chbosky had his work cut out for him. The novel is formated in letters, written by Charlie to an anonymous person who is helping him cope with life after his best friend commits suicide. That must have been tough to translate into a movie, but the film makes good use of the letter writing as a way to see what’s going on in Charlie’s mind. All the important details from the book remained, though some plot lines were cut out or lessened.
I give major props to Chbosky — for his first real film, this is impressive. It defies what you expect of the story without trying too hard. It has big-name actors and actresses in it, but they don’t overshadow the story. It has depth and darkness, yet I still walked away with a sense of hope.
“Wallflower” is a movie with something to say, not just about high school, but life in general. It’s about love and how we don’t know how to handle it. It’s about life and how to live it. It’s about taking each moment as it comes and appreciating it for what it is. It’s about knowing that you’re never going to have it all figured out, and it’s never going to be perfect, but that’s OK.
I think that was actually one of my favorite things about it — it didn’t necessarily feel like an ending as the movie concludes. It felt like a pause in the characters’ lives. Charlie’s end monologue acknowledges that he has a lot to work out, but it also acknowledges that these moments will pass.
“I know these will be stories someday. And our pictures will become old photographs. We’ll all become somebody’s mom or dad. But right now these moments are not stories. This is happening. … This one moment when you know you’re not a sad story, … and in this moment I swear, we are infinite,” he says.
“Wallflower” doesn’t state a lot of things outright for audiences. It expects them to pay attention because so much of what happens is never actually said or shown. Even the major plot twist is portrayed with little more than sparse flashbacks and implications, but Chbosky expects his audience to be smart enough to figure it out. I, for one, appreciated that the story demanded more from me than just a passive viewing.
The book was written in the ’90s, and the movie is clearly placed there as well, but very few specifics are given. You never know exactly where or when this is taking place, which makes you feel more like a part of the story. We were all there: freshman year, terrified on the inside, confused, alone, and yet somehow hopeful, probably because we didn’t know any better.
Might I add: the soundtrack for the movie is amazing. Music is a huge part of the lives of the characters, and the life of the movie itself. Mix tapes are prominently used throughout the film as characters’ ways of showing affection. And yes, actual cassette tapes. It was endearing.
It’s not a movie for everyone — “Wallflower” deals with some really serious issues like drugs, sexual abuse, homosexuality and depression, though it does so tastefully. It requires you to stop and think and actually feel something.
Of course, it has some problems. My biggest issue with it was some of the storylines, particularly in dealing with the letter-writing and the best friend’s suicide, were not fleshed out as well as they could have been. Viewers also don’t really get a good grip on any of the flashback sequences until the very end scenes, which can be frustrating. And Emma Watson’s American accent struggled at times.
Still, I would agree with the San Francisco Chronicle’s Amy Biancolli when she said: “But somehow, these imperfections fit. Somehow, ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ shouldn’t be flawless. It should be cracked and riddled with human frailty. It should hurt.”
And it does hurt, if you let it. But somehow, that’s the beauty in it all.