KC and I went to see The Perks of Being a Wallflower because we’d somewhere heard it described as this generation’s John Hughes film. I don’t think that’s an accurate comparision, for reasons I’ll get into, but it’s certainly well worth seeing as a affecting, intelligent portrait of teenage emotional growth.
I’m impressed that Stephen Chbosky got to adapt and direct his own book, and perhaps that’s why it feels so strong as a film. (I haven’t read the novel.) Logan Lerman (The Three Musketeers, surprisingly, although I didn’t recognize him) stars as Charlie, a troubled boy entering high school as the story begins. He’s alone, and in desperate need of some friends.
Charlie soon falls in with Sam (Emma Watson, doing an outstanding job as an American teen with her own troubled past), her stepbrother Patrick (Ezra Miller, a breakout star), and their misfit friends. The supporting cast is outstanding, from Mae Whitman as a Rocky Horror Picture Show-obsessed punk to Paul Rudd as a teacher who encourages Charlie to Dylan McDermott and Kate Walsh as his parents to Johnny Simmons (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) as Brad, a high school sports star with his own secrets.
As the film progresses, we learn more about Charlie’s hidden past and his mental struggles. He’s been through some extraordinarily challenging events, which is why the need for friends is so important to him. One thing that isn’t hidden from the beginning is Patrick’s homosexuality. He is who he is and isn’t ashamed of it, and Miller’s portrayal is amazing, three-dimensionally fearless. (Plus, he’s beautiful to watch.)
Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller, and Emma Watson in The Perks of Being a Wallflower
That’s one of the factors that confused me at first about the film. I didn’t realize until later that it’s retro, that it’s set in the late 80s or early 90s. The first clue is the music, but outsider kids have always liked the Smiths, right? The clothes are another subtle indicator, but not obvious about it. It wasn’t until I put it all together — no cell phones, no internet, RHPS still being a thing — that it started making sense.
However, Patrick’s position feels a little off to me. He’s not accepted by everyone, but he’s relatively well accepted by his friends and some others. It feels much more today’s approach to a gay-and-out teen than the 80s. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, though.
That brings me back to the Hughes comparison. Those movies spoke to teens as they were. They were so remarkable because they took contemporaneous adolescent concerns and personalities seriously. This film similarly deals in depth with those issues, but because it’s not set now, it feels like a movie that works better for older people, remembering how difficult it could be. There’s an air of nostalgic fondness to it, similar to the way the manga Nana is framed through looking back at the situation.
Erin Wilhelmi, Adam Hagenbuch, Logan Lerman, Mae Whitman, Ezra Miller, and Emma Watson in The Perks of Being a Wallflower
There’s one moment that really brought home how the world used to work. In a time without Google or Shazam, it takes the friends much longer than we thought it should for them to recognize David Bowie’s “Heroes”.
The DVD is due out in February, but the film is still in theaters. The trailer is great, because it really captures the feel of the movie without giving away its secrets.
I think I particularly liked The Perks of Being a Wallflower because it’s rare to see a movie more about friendship than romantic relationships. As we get older, it’s harder to make and keep friends, especially when life drags you in different directions. They’re rare things and should be valued.