“We accept the love we think we deserve.”
When watching the trailer for “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” one might think the movie is a decently standard “Am Teenager, Have Problems” flick with a bunch of obviously-not-teenagers trying to play as teenagers. Or perhaps the slightly atypical one that has become more and more typical as the years have gone by, the type of teen movie that was popularized by “Juno.” Fun music, sassy teens, a story perhaps independent from adults, that sort of thing.
While the movie does have elements of the “Juno”-esque teen movie, “Wallflower” manages to stand out as a rather powerful, emotional ride that forces its audience to contend with several mature and shocking themes, themes that easily apply to adults as well as teenagers in high school. I’m also willing to wager the film will hit particularly close to home for anyone that was shy, introverted and somewhat alone at any point in their lives, particularly during high school.
The movie follows a young teenager about to embark on his first ever day of high school, Charlie (Logan Lerman). He isn’t looking forward to high school. The only aspect he’s looking forward to is the last day of school, and he’s counting down the days. It is rather quickly established that Charlie is quiet and unwilling to speak up, allowing himself to suffer some amount of bullying and abuse (an amount that may theoretically typical for high school freshman, not that I suffered much of it fortunately), despite being a very bright young man. It’s also established that Charlie is alone, apparently carrying no friends over from middle school. But he’s a nice kid that clearly cares about, well, the people he cares about. When his sister Candace (Nina Dobrev) is hit by her boyfriend, Charlie attempts to intervene (though he’s pushed out by his sister). And, though he befriends his kind, mentoring English teacher (Paul Rudd) quickly, he still remains friendless at the start.
Fortunately for Charlie, his freshman shop class is inhabited by the rather outgoing, outspoken, flamboyant character of Patrick (Ezra Miller), a senior that enjoys being a class clown. When Charlie goes to a football game, he sees Patrick and gathers the courage to sit with him. Soon after, Patrick’s fellow senior and step-sister Sam (Emma Watson) sits on the other side. And thus begins not only Charlie’s intense crush on Sam, but also the first friendship he has at the school.
Sam and Patrick hang out with Charlie and bring him into their small group of somewhat misfit friends, coaxing him out of his shell. They introduce him to parties, to dances, to theatre… as well as drugs, though that one isn’t really Sam and Patrick’s fault. Still, it seems to help Charlie through his loneliness and, as we discover through the movie, his other severe emotional problems.
And that’s one thing this movie brings: Broken people. All of the people you get to know throughout this movie are broken and imperfect in some way. The main characters carry quite a lot of pain and trouble, revealed as the film goes on. But they’re all very real people. Their pain, their past torments aren’t used to force empathy, but rather to reveal humanity and inform their character. And beneath the undercurrent themes of healing and friendship lies the theme of love and how it can save and ruin lives, punctuated twice-repeated phrase, “We accept the love we think we deserve.”
The movie is based off of the young adult novel of the same name, written by Stephen Chbosky. In an interesting twist that I feel brings a purity and clarity of vision sometimes lacking in book-to-film translations, the screenplay was also written by Chbosky. The twist is that he also directs the movie, his first directing job since 1995. I had never read the book, but I am willing to wager the movie may be better if you haven’t read it. I thoroughly enjoyed the journey I was taken on in this film, not knowing where I was going to be led. Because this movie goes to several places you wouldn’t expect a movie like this to go, and has some extremely slow reveals about Charlie’s character that might be spoiled by foreknowledge. …I’ll let you know in an edit if that’s true, because, frankly? Out of the three movies I saw this weekend (“Seven Psychopaths” and “Argo” being the others), this is the movie I most want to go back and watch again.
Honestly, this movie had me all over the place emotionally. It was extremely funny at times, particularly thanks to the amazing performance by Miller as Patrick. It was amazingly emotional and genuine, often driven by the quite nearly perfect acting by Lerman as Charlie. Watson, in her first starring role since Harry Potter, I believe, is an excellent choice for a layered character that is easily the subject of a young man’s crush. Her acting seemed, at times, perhaps slightly stiff for a high schooler, but it’s negligible and takes away nothing from the film. And she has some rather fabulous moments of her own, such as her reaction to why Charlie has no friends when starting high school.
I can’t really say much more without giving things away. I can say that I started off with a lot of empathy and connection to Charlie. As the movie went on, I was less able to say, “That’s just like me!” But that didn’t matter. I was so intensely following this film, I was moving all over the place in my seat. There were moments of “Oh, God, no don’t do that!” where I simply curled into a ball to hide out of embarrassment for Charlie, parts where I cried and parts where I laughed perhaps a little too loudly. Particularly for a theater with about 20 people in it and only about five guys. Maybe if the theater were more full, or I wasn’t watching it alone, I would have been less rambunctious… but the way this movie pulled on my emotions, I doubt it.
Go see it. That’s all.