Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012), based on the book of the same name (1999) by Stephen Chbosky. Rated PG 13. Chbosky also wrote the screenplay and directed the film.
The Plot: Charlie starts high school awkward, shy, and without any friends. He meets two seniors, Sam and her stepbrother Patrick, and they welcome him into their offbeat circle of friends.
Charlie’s freshman year has highs and lows, as he navigates friendship, his crush on Sam, and his own complex history.
The Good: I loved this movie so much!
It was so perfect: Charlie, starting school alone, and trying and meeting indifference and trying yet again before he falls into a friendship with Sam and Patrick and their friends. It’s not easy; one of Charlie’s missteps involves dating a friend of Sam’s while he has feelings for Sam, and, of course, that doesn’t end well.
What makes Perks perfect isn’t whether or not Charlie (or Sam or Patrick) always makes the right choices; it’s that Charlie (and Sam and Patrick) keep trying, and keep being open to the possibility of being infinite. Sometimes they make bad choices, and sometimes bad stuff happens just because that is life, and things get intense and messy, but they don’t let that define who they are, or narrow their futures. It’s not as easy as being optimistic or trying; Charlie has some bad days; therapy and treatment end up being of great help to him.
Charlie is great; his own traumas (something that happened with his late aunt; his best friend committed suicide) has made him a wallflower, an observer, but he is also someone who wants connections. I watched this with my niece, and one of her complaints at the end was her twelve year old observation that all of Charlie’s friends have graduated and he’s going to be starting his sophomore year without friends, once again. I have to share because I had the exact same initial reaction when I read the book! And had to tell myself that the sophomore year Charlie is going to be able to find friends, and have an easier time of it, because of what has happened during the time-period covered in Perks.
I loved the generosity of Sam and Patrick. Yes, they like him; but they also make the conscious choice to include Charlie. It’s easy enough, at that time and age, to be too self-involved in one’s own life, too narrow in focus, to be able to look beyond one’s own pain and problems. Charlie’s sister, for example, is shown to care about Charlie (something later in the movie proves) but for his freshman year she is too involved in her own problematic relationships to be there for Charlie. His older brother is at college, and so is also into his own world. Sam and Patrick aren’t perfect; when the relationship with Sam’s best friend implodes, they don’t think of Charlie first, but who would? No one is perfect; and part of what I love about Perks is the acceptance of those imperfections, in Charlie, and in others.
I think part of why Sam and Patrick can be so inclusive of Charlie is that they have already both dealt with some issues in their own past. They see that kindred spirit of a survivor in Charlie. Sam’s past includes sexual assault; Patrick is accepting and open of his own sexuality but his boyfriend is in the closet and the relationship is uneven and shaky at best.
Another reason this movie is terrific is the music. The movie is set in the early 90s and the fashion and the music! Yes, I bought the soundtrack. Other very 90s thing? People using drugs, and drinking, without any after-school special “omg you must be an addict” moments. A surprising lack of helicopter parents.
Some quotes I love: “Right now we are alive and in this moment I swear we are infinite.” “We accept the love we think we deserve.” “But right now these moments are not stories. This is happening, I am here and I am looking at her. And she is so beautiful. I can see it. This one moment when you know you’re not a sad story. You are alive, and you stand up and see the lights on the buildings and everything that makes you wonder. And you’re listening to that song and that drive with the people you love most in this world. And in this moment I swear, we are infinite.” “My doctor said we can’t choose where we come from but we can choose where we go from there. I know it’s not all the answers but it was enough to start putting these pieces together.”
I read the book years ago; for me, what works best, is that I have as much time between reading and watching as possible so I don’t compare and miss scenes and wonder what happened to characters.