When I first saw the trailer for The Perks of Being a Wallflower, my immediate reaction was joy… I knew this would be a movie I would love… a movie that would make me cry in the way only a movie that shines a light on the pain of being an awkward teenager, those first steps into love, those friends who at the time seem like they will be your friends until the day you die, those wretched feelings that come with new and horrendous hormones flowing through you body and causing a form of temporary insanity cured only by the ravages of time and experience.
What I didn’t expect was how brutal this film actually is… I was thinking John Hughes for the 21st. century, not Robert Redford’s Ordinary People…
The film is adapted from a novel of the same name, directed by the author, Stephen Chbosky. I like the fact that the author was given the opportunity to deliver his words onto the screen… this is an obvious labor of love, and is full of insights and particulars that could easily have been watered down by someone not in his shoes. If I had to give a review in two words it would have to be: brutal and honest… Chbosky seems determined to make you feel every nuance of what the protagonist Charlie (Logan Lerman) is experiencing.
The film opens with Charlie writing to an unknown person known only as “friend” as he discusses his upcoming first day of high school. On his first day, the only friend he makes is his English teacher, Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd). Harassed by his fellow classmen and invisible to everyone else, the only person who seems interesting to him is the only senior in his shop class, Patrick (Ezra Miller).
Charlie goes to the homecoming football game alone, but sees Patrick and decides to strike up a conversation, which is where he meets Patrick’s best friend, Sam (Emma Watson). They immediately take Charlie under their wings, and the movie moves forward from there.
Everything I had read or heard about The Perks of Being a Wallflower discussed first love and the incredible performances of the three leads, Ezra Miller’s performance in particular. What I didn’t hear about (and this may be slightly spoilery, but I won’t go into details) is that it also covers: Suicide, mental illness, homosexuality, abuse, molestation, and a healthy dose of guilt. It is a genuinely unblinking look at the difficulties of being a teenage outsider… and at times, it was painful to watch.
Don’t mistake my grumblings regarding the depression inherent in this film… I loved it… but I feel like these aspects have been glossed over in everything I’ve heard so far. Although John Hughes would touch on some of the aforementioned subjects, he never delved into them the way Chbosky does. The only comparison I could easily make between the two is that it involves vulnerable teenagers who long for something and great music. Because the film takes place in 1991, the music is from the time I graduated high school (I graduated in 1990)… so I had a warm spot for that… especially The Smiths, which is used often.
I should take the time to also pile onto the bandwagon regarding the performances… they really were phenomenal. I had only seen Logan Lerman in Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, so to see him diving into this difficult role was a revelation. Emma Watson is possibly the best thing to emerge from the Harry Potter juggernaut, and she does a fine job convincing me she’s American. Her accent gets a bit dodgy at times, but hey… how often have American’s slaughtered the English accent? And yes… Ezra Miller, Kevin from We Need to Talk About Kevin, is amazing. Playing a gay teen who is having a relationship with someone who is in the closet and not about to come out in any way shape or form, is heartbreaking… and the exuberance he puts into life in order to cover the immense pain of what he is going through makes that heartbreak all the more effective… and when we finally get to that pain, your body will ache for him.
I also have to give a shout out to the fact that Tom Savini plays the shop teacher. For those of you who don’t immediately recognize that name, he was/is George Romero’s go-to special effects guy. He is responsible for the gore in Dawn of the Dead as well as directing the remake of Night of the Living Dead. He occasionally pops up in films as an actor, like in the remake of Dawn of the Dead, but to see him appear here was a rare treat. And yes… somehow I managed to find a zombie connection to something as far from the undead as possible. <takes a bow>
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a stupendous film… but be forewarned, it is not an easy film. Although there are a number of lighthearted moments, and the music is wonderful, the vast majority of this story is difficult to watch… and if, like me, you are emotionally affected by such things, tread lightly… but tread you should, because this film is worth it. Kudos to everyone involved…
I didn’t see many perks,
Cornelius J. Blahg