This Catch-Up is written by Chelsea Cristene
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Year of Release: 2012
Rating: PG-13 for mature themes, drug and alcohol use, mild sexual content.
Currently Streaming on Netflix?: No.
Spoilers: No spoilers here! Carry on!
I’m a community college instructor. I spend many hours a day with eighteen and nineteen year old “young adults.” So each time I’ve answered “no” to the question “but you’ve read/seen The Perks of Being a Wallflower, right?” I’ve been met with a considerable amount of shock and confusion. Fortunately, some friends of mine in Pittsburgh remedied the problem last week when they gifted me a shiny new copy of Perks for my birthday. The movie, not the book. (Yep, I’m not going to make it through this Catch Up without committing multiple cardinal sins, one of which is watching the film adaptation before reading the book.)
The Perks of Being a Wallflower might be called the Catcher in the Rye of our generation with its loveably awkward and impressionable protagonist, smattering of life-changing experiences, and mentoring English teacher figures (Paul Rudd’s Mr. Anderson brings the kind of soft touch to this film that Miss Honey does to Matilda). Charlie (Jack & Bobby’s Logan Lerman) is a high school freshman navigating new territory after a vaguely alluded to stint in the hospital. His older sister isn’t much help in showing him the ropes, as she is much more wrapped up in her boyfriend, “Ponytail Derek,” and Charlie eases his loneliness by writing in a diary to a friend he hasn’t met yet.
Enter Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson), a hip step-sibling duo of seniors who recognize Charlie’s isolation and include him in their social gatherings. The bond between the three friends grows tighter and tighter as the school year progresses, and it is gradually revealed that each character faces his or her own inner demons. Charlie frequently grapples with memories of his deceased Aunt Helen, particularly her car accident. Patrick is gay, and fooling around with a closeted jock named Brad (Johnny Simmons). Upon giving Charlie a typewriter for Christmas, Sam reveals that her first kiss was with her father’s boss, and kisses Charlie so that his first time is with someone who cares about him. Needless to say, Charlie is head over heels for Sam (who has a boyfriend) at this point, but his shyness prohibits him from making his feelings known. Instead, he rather passively ends up with Sam’s demonstrative friend, Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman).
Whenever I talk to friends or students about abuse of any kind – verbal, emotional, physical – I always catch myself saying something along the lines of, “It happens more often than you think it does.” The Perks of Being a Wallflower charmingly captures the rocky transition from child to teenager to college freshman, but the film’s (and book’s) universality applies in a much deeper sense. Beyond raging hormones and new experiences, each of Perks’ characters is guided by what The Breakfast Club’s Allison Reynolds would deem “an unsatisfying home life.” They are discovering, as are many of this generation’s adolescents, that it is not so easy to separate ourselves from our parents’ problems, that despite our best wishes, we often “accept the love we think we think we deserve.” Though a few scenes are pretty unsettling (the cafeteria fight between Patrick and Brad is particularly hard to watch), the ultimate message of the film is reassuring without being trite: even though all of us feel like a Charlie at times, we can get through just about anything with a little help from our friends. And, you know, David Bowie’s “Heroes.” Which I will definitely be blasting the next time I cruise through the Fort Pitt tunnels.