Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower tells the story of an introverted and mentally unstable student trying to find his place in life and in school and is an excellent and relatable portrayal of teenage challenges. Adolescence is a time when defined and exclusive social circles are incredibly prevalent through locker-lined hallways, a time when the type of friends you have can make or break your entire high school career, and a time when hormones can be the cause of tension within families.
Taking place in the early 1990s, the audience is sent back to a time that was pre-Internet and pre-cell phone, full of mixed tapes with The Rocky Horror Picture Show being a popular social event on a Friday night. The plot follows Charlie (Logan Lerman) throughout his entire freshman year of high school. The youngest of three children, Charlie is somewhat overshadowed by his Penn State football player brother and popular senior in high school sister. With his best friend, Michael, having committed suicide the year before and his “favorite person in the world,” Aunt Helen, having died some years prior to the story, Charlie is a very quiet person with a history of depression who literally has no friends at the beginning of his high school career. At a September football game, an outspoken and goofy senior named Patrick (Ezra Miller) recognizes Charlie from their shop class. Patrick and his edgy step-sister, Sam (Emma Watson), quickly realize that Charlie is unpopular and a “wallflower” like them, and the two seniors take Charlie under their wings.
Through his new friendships with Sam and Patrick, Charlie is introduced to many of their friends and has many of his first life experiences – first love, first girlfriend, first time imbibing alcohol and taking drugs. A thoughtful yet vulnerable individual who genuinely wants his family and friends to be happy, Charlie usually fails to act upon and is not vocally honest with his thoughts and feelings, as he thinks what his friends and family have is what they want in and out of life. However, Charlie’s English teacher, Bill (Paul Rudd), recognizes the high academic potential and thoughtfulness in Charlie and gives him additional books to read and then discuss together. As the only 100% positive adult influence on Charlie’s life, he pushes Charlie to be a better student as well as a better and more honest person all around.
For anyone who has been a teenager and experienced high school, this film is extremely relatable and will make you nostalgic for your teenage years, regardless of how amazing or terrible they were. Focusing on both the highs and lows of adolescence, the script will provoke you to remember your first experiences in life and love and consider why exactly you made the choices that you did – whether they were your best decisions or your most regrettable mistakes.
One of the overarching themes Chbosky (who wrote the novel and screenplay and also directed the film) ties into the plot is “we accept the love we think we deserve,” demonstrated through the family, friendly, and romantic relationships Charlie has with others in his life. An extremely riveting message, the viewer subtly sees Charlie’s opinions on the type of love he thinks each character truly deserves, but doesn’t have in reality. Chbosky’s writing overall, and specifically with this theme about love, perfectly combines the impulsive decisions and feelings of an adolescent mind with a retrospective sense of teenage innocence.
Emma Watson’s performance in Perks has been highly anticipated as it’s her biggest film since Harry Potter. She extremely convincingly portrays Sam, a 17-18-year-old somewhat delinquent teenage girl who chooses to be involved in many underage activities, as well as carrying a prodigious reputation being with a plethora of guys in her early high school career. Watson doesn’t carry any memory of Hermione to her portrayal of Sam. The only unconvincing part of her performance was her below-par American accent which is only an extremely minor distraction from her overall fantastic performance. Alongside Watson, Lerman and Miller also steal the show, fantastically portraying an introspective and mentally unstable freshman and an openly gay senior, respectively. The intense chemistry between these three young actors is so superb that it wouldn’t be surprising in the least if they rightfully win prestigious awards for their performances within the next year.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower will make you feel urged to reconsider social groups you may have had ill feelings towards in high school, while also giving a fresh feeling and sense of life and adolescent naivety. Everyone can relate to this story one way or another, and it will surely become a staple film in the young adult genre for that reason. The perfectly picked actors, eloquently written plot, and thought-provoking messages on love and life will leave you with an overflowing heart that will make you feel “infinite.”
Rated: PG-13 (for mature thematic material, drug and alcohol use, sexual content including references, and a fight – all involving teens)
The Perks of Being a Wallflower opens in limited theaters on September 21, 2012 in the U.S., and opens in the U.K. on October 3, 2012.