Movie Review : The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
David Foster Wallace wrote in his magnum opus Infinite Jest that : "everybody is identical in their secret unspoken belief that way deep down they are different from everyone else." I believe that is exactly why we adults, secretly or not, enjoy novels and movies aimed at teenagers. Because they give a cohesive and romantic reflection of an time that was neither for most of us, self-included. That is why I decided to watch 2012's movie adaptation of Stephen Chbosky's hit young adult novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower, starring Emma Watson and a bunch of nobodies. And it didn't make me feel special. It gave me all sorts of conflicting emotion, but actually did a good job at keeping my own self-interested feeling out of it.
So, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the story of an introverted high school freshman named Charlie (Logan Lerman) who is understandably terrified of starting high school. He also has a mystery friend to whom he write letter all the time, but it doesn't become important until later. The transition is made easier than expected for Charlie because of two seniors who decided to take him under their wing. Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson) become fond of Charlie after getting him high off a pot brownie at a party and took on themselves to usher him into adulthood. Charles blossoms through the companionship of his new friends, but struggles letting go of the baggage that's holding him in the past. That friend I mentioned earlier.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is not QUITE your typical boring coming of age movie. It's not about overcoming adversity, it's about coping with change and that makes it interesting to me. Charlie HAS faced adversity in his young life, but not exactly in the movie. He falls in love, gets conned into dating by an older girl, performs in a live representation of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, he's not exactly getting his head dunked in a toilet here. The problem here is, interestingly enough, existential : Charlie is experiencing a slew of new things through his mature, almost college-aged friends at a formative age and is having trouble letting go of a trauma that's been the defining moment of his young existence, so far. He has to choose between the unknown and an all too familiar grief that's part of his identity. So, that's a cool, kind of unlikely dilemma for a young adult fiction protagonist.
But, The Perks of Being a Wallflower also IS your typical coming of age movie, but it is in a way I can't quite fault it for. For example, the movie fetishizes Emma Watson in a troubling, psychosexual way, but so is Charlie. I thought the choice of Watson to play Sam was also interesting because she's a "conventional" beauty who could've easily played in 1950s movies alongside Grace Kelly and Ingrid Bergman, yet plays a quirky and insecure girl with a future that is up for her to define and not quite in an easy or inspiring way. She doesn't travel to South East Asia to find herself or anything. Her goal is to get admitted to Penn State and start a new chapter of her life away from the Pittsburgh grind. There's no easy answer for Charlie and Sam, and Stephen Chbosky found a really graceful way to elude any easy conclusion. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is pleasant like a teenager's daydream, but it's ultimately not bullshitting anybody.
So, what to make of The Perks of Being a Wallflower? I hate not being cynical about young adult fiction, but it's kind of a good movie. It was written and directed by the author of the novel Stephen Chbosky, so it shouldn't be that much of a surprise. Adaptations that manage to keep their cohesiveness and creative integrity are usually good. I could nitpick it an tell you the mental illness subplot felt like it was wildly overdone and didn't quite belong in this story, but the movie does enough to work its way around this problem. I don't really advocate a steady diet of teenage movies for adult viewers, but The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an acceptable hitch. Movies like this aren't usually smart, but this one's got its moments. It's not bad at all.