The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Though her comrades are extraordinary, Emma Watson is magnetic. For all Harry Potter’s magical powers, how could he possibly have failed to marry Hermione?
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a film that I loved from beginning to end. It is the functional equivalent of a hyacinth blooming in Spring, in that its beauty is surrounded by an aroma that leaves you inhaling with delight.Written and directed by Stephen Chbotsky, and based on his hit novel, it tracks a group of teenagers as they struggle to make sense out of their existence.
The movie centers around the friendship of three compelling characters,two of them being high school seniors who are stepbrother and -sister, and the third a freshman boy who doesn’t have a single friend in the world outside of his own family. The half-brother and -sister are Patrick and Sam, played by Ezra Miller and Emma Watson, and they are both spectacular. Patrick is obviously gay, and he is as flamboyantly entertaining as he is unapologetic.Ms. Watson’s character is struggling to get admitted at Penn State, and she is an immensely attractive young girl who is haunted by her past.
The “Wallflower” referred to in the film’s title is Charlie, played memorably by Logan Lerman. He dreads the entire experience of high school in every respect, and he finds immediate comfort when befriended by Ms. Watson and Mr. Miller.
The film worked for many reasons. First and foremost, it gave a searing portrayal of the true underbelly of youth as opposed to the image that we see frequently portrayed on TV and elsewhere. Two of our stars are cursed with the profound emotional consequences of being sexually abused when much younger. Ms. Watson cannot help but wrestle with the feeling that there is something wrong with her, and she is fighting to find some way to simply embrace some self respect. Mr. Lerman, on the other hand, had ugly experiences when very young with an aunt who subsequently died in a car wreck. He is haunted by the memories and feels profound guilt that he somehow caused her death.
On top of that, the loveable Mr. Miller is forced to balance the consequences of being gay in a society that largely won’t accept it. You can be immensely funny, creative and outgoing, but keep everything else in the closet.
What happens to his lover, a star football player, when the latter’s father finds them is as shockingly ugly as it is profoundly upsetting. I couldn’t help but wish that Mike Pence, the right-wing Republican candidate for Governor of Indiana, would see this film.
Additionally, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is enormously helped by several supporting performances. Paul Rudd makes an unexpected contribution playing Mr. Anderson, an English teacher who was really the first person who befriended Lerman. Joan Cusack appears late in the film playing Dr. Burton, a psychological counselor who helps young Mr. Lerman find his way out of his self-imposed darkness. Also, Dillon McDermott and Kate Walsh appear here as Lerman’s parents, adults who must come to grips with one son who is a star football player at Penn State while the other is haunted for unknown reasons.
Finally, Mae Whitman makes a major contribution as Mary Elizabeth, the young woman who asks Lerman out to a Sadie Hawkins Dance on his first date. He subsequently finds himself locked in a relationship that he can’t find away to end because he is afraid of offending her. In a sense, Lerman’s problem reflected what occurred throughout Celeste & Jesse Forever and Sleepwalk with Me, where we saw young men and women suffering the same curse. Quite frankly, everyone needs to learn quickly that if a lover will be hurt by the truth,then they shouldn’t be a lover.
The experience of the high school kids in The Perks of Being a Wallflower reminded me of the exchange between Steve Carell and Paul Dano in Little Miss Sunshine (2006). Faced with Dano’s expression of dread that his last two years of high school would be overwhelmingly tedious and dull, Carell responded with a reference to the astonishing work by several artists who were suffering the same affliction. The bottom line is that kids simply can’t look away, as enjoyment can only come if you embrace the moment.
I should also note that the original music by Michael Brook is daring and imaginative at every turn, as is the use of David Bowie’s classic work when our three musketeers are traveling in a pickup truck with Ms. Watson standing in the back bed, her arms raised above it’s roof. In addition, there is an absolutely hysterically wonderful scene where Ms. Watson and Mr. Miller are dancing together at a school function, and you can’t help but immediately embrace them.
Finally, many of you know that I have been a criminal defense attorney for over 30 years. At times, I have had to struggle to come to grips with violence committed by my clients.
In many cases, they were young people, some in the juvenile justice system. Like it or not, society has a tendency to avoid looking behind the social curtain to see how these kids were raised. How can we expect them to be“normal” when they have been denied that opportunity while growing up?
In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Mr. Lerman plays one of those kids with secrets he can’t outrun. He’s smart, cute and likeable in every respect, but he just constantly feels on the outside of society looking in on the actions of others that he wants to replicate but simply can’t.
I’m willing to bet that many of you will find it impossible to resist watching this film without tears in your eyes as these young people wrestle with life and many of its unfortunate, and often ugly, demands. Every one of these kids will win you over while they break your heart. And that is why this is one of those rare films where you are likely to see, as I did, many people in the theater applauding at its ending.