There’s something about Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower that transcends the teen romantic drama genre into something adults can appreciate. Maybe it’s the story of artsy outsiders befriending a vulnerable freshman. Maybe it’s that the stories of young love aren’t so airy and idealistic, but raw and complicated. Maybe it’s the snarky, comical tone often taken. But this lovely film, with its perfect cast, surprised me and warmed my spirit.
The story follows Charlie (Logan Lerman), a shy and lonely high school freshman. He meets Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson), two senior half-siblings who welcome him to their eclectic group of friends. Charlie’s friends expose him to a whole world on the cusp of adulthood including productions of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, drugs and his first taste of romance. Over the school year their friendships grow, misadventures turn into a lifetime of memories and these things help him cope with past trauma.
The era the story takes place is never given a year, but feels like a magical time to be a teenager. Perhaps the early 1990s. It’s before cellphones and texting, so loneliness feels more authentic. Teen parties have an intimate feel, rather than a rowdy kegger. It’s when a typewriter is an exciting gift for a budding writer. The tunnel song is lost until it comes on the radio again and mixtapes are symbols of young love.
What makes this film so captivating is how Charlie is embraced by opening up about his underlying issues and yet many scenes are kept light and comical. The first comes fairly early when he casually blurts out while high at his first party that his best friend killed himself. The look of shock and sadness that crosses Sam’s face is heartbreaking as she’s making her high new friend a milkshake. It’s in that moment that Sam and her friends really embrace Charlie, help raise him up and welcome him to “the island of misfit toys.” It’s wonderful to watch them help him step out of the shadows of his depression and grow into a more confident young man.
The tunnel scene is the most memorable and is becoming iconic as this film ages. After his first party, Charlie gets a ride home with Patrick and Sam. As David Bowie’s Heroes plays on the radio, Sam exclaims that it’s a perfect song for the tunnel. Patrick drives through the tunnel, radio blasting Bowie and Sam slowly, but daringly slips out the back window of the pickup’s cab. She stands, spreading her arms like she’s flying, the tunnel lights glittering the tile around and the wind billowing her skirt triumphantly. It’s here that Charlie, looking up at her in awe, and probably still a little high, has his most quotable epiphany, “I feel infinite.” It’s an exhilarating ride to usher Charlie into this new chapter of his life.
Perhaps what makes this film feel so authentic and resonating is the fact that the director, Stephen Chbosky is also the screenwriter and author of the novel. The film feels crafted carefully out of love, something I find very rare in this genre. If you’re looking for a teen film that can move and captivate adults, The Perks of Being a Wallflower should be on you list.
“I know I’m quiet… and, and I know I should speak more. But if you knew the things that were in my head most of the time, you’d know what it really meant. How, how much we’re alike, and how we’ve been through the same things… and you’re not small. You’re beautiful.”