Release Date: November 29
The first fifty minutes of The Perks Of Being A Wallflower lead you to believe you know everything there is to know about this coming-of-age film. The last fifty minutes reveal you knew nothing at all. And somewhere in between you remember that’s exactly what it’s like to be in high school.
Logan Leman plays Charlie, an American teen entering his first year of high school. He’s preparing himself for a rough ride given his best friend is no longer on the scene, his older sister doesn’t want to know him and he’s not the most outgoing of personalities. However Charlie is saved from his future as a wallflower by two seniors, Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson) who take an interest in this quiet boy. They are outsiders who have created their own inside. Patrick is gay; Sam is a girl living down a ‘reputation’. But together the three and a few extra friends provide a safe place to be different. “Welcome to the island of lost toys,” Sam tells Charlie and he realizes that he is finally home.
But this, as I mentioned, is only the first half of the film.
From this place of comfort Perks begins to peel back the protective layers that hide the pain at the heart of each character. Patrick is tortured by a boy who won’t admit to being his friend; Sam is escaping a less than ideal home life and Charlie suffers from mental illness with deep roots in his past.
The Perks Of Being A Wallflower is the film adaptation of the 1999 novel by Stephen Chobsky. The author was commissioned to write the screenplay so the plot follows the book fairly closely. Normally I would say it’s a dangerous gamble to give that sort of power to the author because they’re often too close to their work to translate it effectively, but Chobsky is clearly the exception to the rule. Perks isn’t self-indulgent or incomprehensible to the outsider. In fact it manages to capture that universal adolescent feeling of being both lost and found, confused and hopeful at the same time. In particular it confronts the teenage battle to deal with barely understood pain. Charlie asks his English teacher a question for the ages, and gets a sad truth in return:
Charlie: “Why do nice people date people that are no good for them?”
Mr Callahan: “We accept the love we think we deserve.”
Perks is set in 1991 but a sense of identity and self-esteem still direct the behaviour of teens today, as it probably has since Adam was a boy. Why else do boys sign up for sports they don’t enjoy, or girls wear clothes that look better on their friends? And the lower their sense of personal value, the more likely they will indulge in behaviour gauged to win approval, and the less likely they will think that someone could love the resulting mess.
Charlie, Patrick and Sam end up becoming a collection of broken pieces that form a healthy whole. However not every adolescent finds those sorts of people who are more concerned about what their friend needs than what they get in return. In fact many in their twenties, thirties and upwards are still searching. Chobsky may picture high school as a period that needs to be survived till maturity emerges, but security isn’t guaranteed at any age. Christianity, though, offers the one sure harbour.
Jesus told his audiences the stories of The Prodigal Son, The Pharisee and the Tax Collector and The Good Shepherd to teach them at the very least that God loved them far more than they understood. He would have offered Patrick the same choice He offered the rich young ruler; He would have displayed the same insight with Sam that He showed the woman at the well. More importantly, Jesus would have helped Charlie not only with his problem, but his real problem, just as He did a different sort of cripple brought by his friends. Charlie finishes the film by offering up a piece of advice he learnt from a counselor:
“We can’t choose where we come from, but we can choose where we go from there.”
Perks will do a good job of alerting parents and their children to the problems. My hope is that they’ll walk towards the light from there.