Stephen Chbosky’s first film, released last year and based on a novel by the same name, also written by him in 1999, is one of the more charming coming of age films.
At a time when we are constantly bombarded with American high school films and tv series always featuring mean girls (terrifyingly perfect featured high school cheerleader alpha females who rip apart the innocent bespectacled literary nerd girl), a wall of football jocks versus the one shrimpy (sometimes gay) and terrified young male science nerd, and, of course, the obligatory ‘good teacher’, it is refreshing to see this much overused subject taken on by a sensitive, intelligent director who knows how to portray teenage angst with a feather light touch while encompassing both the beauty and pain of that particular time in a person’s life.
The strength of The Perks of Being a Wallflower is undeniably in its writing. Chbosky has done a brilliant job of adapting his own novel, an epistolary piece, and therefore not the easiest form to translate into screenplay. Episodic in nature, the story follows the high school careers of three friends: Charlie, played by Logan Lerman, Sam (Emma Watson), and her stepbrother Patrick (Ezra Miller).
Charlie has just started his freshman year at high school. Nervous and very shy, it is purely by accidental good fortune that he is picked up and nurtured by Sam and Patrick, high school seniors who are undeniably on the ‘cool’ scene.
While ‘cool’ in Gossip Girl means incredibly well dressed and terribly snotty, ‘cool’ in The Perks of being a Wallflower means being intelligent, kind, brave, and having excellent taste in music. In this way, Wallflower is a throwback to the Enid Blyton novels, perpetuated later, of course, by JK Rowling in the Harry Potter novels where decency reigns above all else and striving for knowledge does not necessarily make you a ‘nerd’.
For a first time director, Chbosky has a knack for the visual and while the film is not a cinematic masterpiece, it has many memorable scenes made alive by the acting of the young cast, all of whom are very good, Lerman in particular excels as the young and loyal Charlie.
As the school year progresses, Charlie inevitably falls in love with the vivacious Sam and becomes confidante to Patrick who reveals that not only is he gay, he is dating the star quarterback of the football team, the tall, handsome, and very masculine seeming Brad.
In another kind of high school film the above combination would have resulted in catfights, blame games, and furious pretty girls behaving their worst. Instead, while there is a fist fight, the problems of these young teenagers are resolved with quiet drama but no particular histrionics.
This in itself would have elevated The Perks of Being a Wallflower to another level. However, with the combination of its carefully chosen nostalgic, evocative music (David Bowie, New Order, The Smiths, Sonic Youth), its three dimensional, immensely likeable characters, and its ability to take one right back to one’s teenage years (whether you like it or not) the film becomes a special, memorable depiction of a time that most of us want to forget, yet still cherish in perverse ways in our unreliable memories.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower, directed by Stephen Chbosky