Fitting in to life, love, and High School
When book adaptations hit screens there are usually judgments about things that are left out or about directors that don’t capture the original author’s intentions. All of that is moot in The Perks of Being a Wallflower because the author Steven Chbosky is the film’s screenwriter, producer, and director. It’s safe to say he knows the characters, the flow of emotion, and most importantly all of his fans.
The film takes place in suburban Pittsburgh and spans the course of one school year, centering on a shy kid named Charlie played by Logan Lerman. He’s an introvert who has never really fit in and trembles from his past, which is occasionally presented to us in flashback, memories that get deeper and darker as the film progresses. His inital battle is reconciling the suicide of a friend; his everlasting one is with his former aunt.
He is just starting high school and has no friends until he gets taken under the wing of two seniors, Patrick, played enthusiastically by Ezra Miller, and his stepsister Sam, Emma Watson’s first major role since Harry Potter. They, along with several other latch-ons including Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman) are forcefully non-conformists, rebels who enjoy listening to good music-meaning music made on vinyl- partying, and performing in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Charlie finally has people to “fit in” with so he can adhere to their lifestyle and then find his own. Along the way of course are mistakes, some volatile and some subtle, that demonstrate the polarizing nature of high school friendships and sexual identity. There is not necessarily anything new here, and we see identifiable patterns emerge, ups and downs throughout the course of a school year that toggle with many familiar adolescent themes of personal identity, social inclusion, and unabashed honesty. It seems kids on the periphery of high school hierarchies always find deeper meaning in life, an awareness of their own identity easier than the “popular” group.
But these ideas are all clutched with such spirit, especially by Ezra Miller, who finds a medium between boneheaded prankster and emotional companion a la Breakfast Club’s Judd Nelson. High School films are meant to feel this way, establishing connections with more overt characters that represent a distinct group of kids. Charlie tries new “things” at house parties, including a relationship with Mary-Elizabeth, though his true affection is for Sam. She swings to 80s tunes and has an effervescent air, but is tied to bad boyfriends (a common theme in the story). Like every group, they need a meeting spot; there’s is the town diner.
In a small subplot, Charlie makes friends with his English teacher Mr. Anderson played by Paul Rudd and thus reads tons of books like “The Great Gatsby” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” He gets extra reading assignments and near the beginning of the year, laments that Mr. Anderson will be his first friend. By the end of the film, this is a silly worry, and probably something Charlie is actually grateful for.
It isn’t all breezy though, and that’s what makes the film a little more powerful than your average high school drama. Smart, funny, heart-breaking, The Perks of Being a Wallflower tackles its themes with the same conviction and tenderness its characters do.