"Wallflower" Brings the Perks and Angst of Teenage Years to Life Review

During the summer before my senior year, I was getting over a particularly nasty break-up. I know looking back on that time that I was all angst and must have been really annoying to be around, which is why I appreciate what my friends did for me. Whenever I started moping, we would all pile into the car, and they would take me for a long drive. One of my friends had a knack for making the best mixed CDs, and he would turn up the music so loud that I could sing along at the top of my lungs and not feel self-conscious. We would sit in the cold grass under the night sky and talk for hours until I knew that everything would be alright. They understood me and accepted me when I was happy and pleasant to be around, and on my really bad days, their only concern was bringing me back.

Watching The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I was taken back to those high school days when every feeling is ten times more potent. You need amazing friends to celebrate those big wins and survive all the painful bullshit, and while Charlie's friends are snappier and glossier than real life, these characters and their stories ring true for me. I haven't been so affected by a teen dramedy since John Hughes' best work, and though it might not be the best movie of the year, it is one of my absolute favorites.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, based on the book by the same name, follows Charlie (Logan Lerman) as he survives his freshman year of high school. He gets off to a rough start after only making one friend by the end of his first day of classes, which is his English teacher Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd). His fate changes, though, when he meets Patrick (Ezra Miller), a notorious senior slacker from his shop class, and Patrick's step-sister Sam (Emma Watson) at a Friday night football game. That night, Charlie is introduced to a whole cast of outsiders from punk Buddhist Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman) to Susan, an aspiring filmmaker who loves vampires and shoplifting jeans (Erin Wilhelmi). Thanks to their friendships, Charlie starts working through his deeply rooted issues, and he gains the confidence to stop being a “wallflower” and discover his true potential.

Now, it is possible to be cynical about the premise of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I could say that Emma Watson is the ultimate pixie dream girl, and her band of friends are like Charlie's hipster fairy godmothers. It would be so easy for this movie to be annoyingly witty and for Patrick, Sam, Mary Elizabeth, and Susan to be too perfect. However, none of that would be true. Director Stephen Chbosky, who also wrote the script and the original novel, avoids this pitfall completely. None of the characters are perfect or have everything figured out. Even Patrick, who seems confident and fully accepting of himself, has his secrets. Besides that, Charlie's depression is not “cured” when he finds friends. He has good days, but like many who have gone through a nervous breakdown, the threat of another breakdown is always waiting out of sight but not out of mind.

What I really admire about The Perks of Being a Wallflower is how it tackles heavy subjects like clinical depression, abusive relationships, and sexual discovery without falling into after-school special preaching. Chbosky also keeps the movie from getting weighed down by weaving humor and beauty into the story in ways that feel natural. One of the best scenes of the movie which balances humor and teen drama perfectly involves a game of Truth or Dare that goes terribly wrong. One moment, I was laughing along with these characters, and in a split second, I wanted to crawl under my theater seat and hide. That one scene brought back a rush of memories and emotions that I hadn't felt in years.

Days have gone by since I saw The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and I still can't get this movie out of my head. I am pretty sure that is the mark of a successful film. Looking ahead, the next few weekends at the box office will most likely be dominated by Dredd and Looper, and the first of the Oscar bait is right around the corner. Still, I hope and pray that The Perks of Being a Wallflower does not get lost in the shuffle. This wonderfully bittersweet little film should be a new teen movie classic, and I doubt that I will be the only one taken back to their high school years by Charlie, Patrick, and Sam.

"The Perks of Being a Wallflower" opens September 21, 2012 and is rated PG13. Comedy, Drama, Romance. Written and directed by Stephen Chbosky. Starring Emma Watson, Erin Wilhelmi, Ezra Miller, Johnny Simmons, Logan Lerman, Mae Whitman, Paul Rudd.

Sep
21
2012
Rachel Kolb • Staff Writer

I love movies, writing, and breaking into song in public. You can follow me on Twitter @rachelekolb or check out more of my work at http://rachelekolb.wordpress.com.

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