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It’s a little intimidating for me to write about The Perks of Being a Wallflower, because not only is it one of my favorite movies, but it’s also one that I know is very special to a lot of us.
The first time I saw it was at the start of summer, and it felt like I was watching something special at the exact right time. I felt like I had seen a lot of my previous year of school on screen, and I could immediately pick out people in my head whom I associated with Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller), and I connected myself with Charlie (Logan Lerman). But what I didn’t know at the time was that the movie would only feel more and more relatable to me in the next couple years that followed.
Based off his own novel of the same name, director Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower follows Charlie as he navigates his first year in high school alongside his cool older friends, Sam and Patrick. They take him to parties, make him watch Rocky Horror, and introduce him to a ton of cool music (the film’s soundtrack is part of what got me into Galaxie 500, who remain one of my favorites, and also has New Order, XTC, Sonic Youth, Cracker, Cocteau Twins, the Smiths, and, of course, David Bowie (and I’m naming these just off the top of my head)). Throughout the movie we get to see the highs and lows of Charlie’s freshmen year. The film does a perfect job of capturing both how it feels to be happy and how it feels to be depressed. And even though it’s a movie about a bunch of angsty teens, the emotions feel real rather than heightened or exaggerated. Every character feels like an entirely real person, someone you could have a conversation with and relate to.
And most of us can relate to this movie in some way or another. Chbosky manages to tackle so many different topics without narrowing any of them down to ideas that don’t feel realistic. The Perks of Being a Wallflower knows how it feels to be sad and alone, and it also knows how it feels to be happy and understood, having found people like you, who make you want to be around them. I have known people like Sam and Patrick, and I feel lucky to have had those people in my life. I’ve never had Paul Rudd as a cool English teacher, but I have had teachers who I felt like I could talk to and who did everything they could to make school a better place for me. It’s clear that even the then-70-year-old Roger Ebert, writing about the film a year before his death, felt a similar way. He opened his review with “All of my previous selves still survive somewhere inside of me, and my previous adolescent would have loved The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”
Considering how personal the story is, it makes sense that author Chbosky would want to write and direct the film adaptation himself, something that rarely happens. Though he may not be an incredibly bold and stylistic director, his work behind the camera does everything necessary in adapting his novel.
There are a few moments in the movie that come off as a little cheesy. The scene where Charlie first meets Sam and Patrick, for example, and of course, the fact that Sam knows everything about music and goes as far as to namedrop a Cocteau Twins single but still doesn’t recognize a pretty big Bowie song. But despite all of that, it really doesn’t matter, because high school is incredibly cheesy (and stupid) most of the time. So, when Sam and Patrick do their silly “living room routine” as Dexy’s Midnight Runners plays in the school gym, I really don’t care. It doesn’t matter how cheesy or cliché it may feel, because this is a movie about high school, where dumb stuff happens all of the time.
It may not have been doing anything new or groundbreaking for film, but it takes a special kind of movie to connect with so many different people at a time in which they need it. And that’s why I love The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower screens Thursday, January 25th.