“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” – the 1999 novel written by Stephen Chbosky – first came on to my radar my freshman year of high school. Fitting, as Charlie, our narrator’s chosen alias in the story (played by Logan Lerman in the film adaptation) is also in the beginnings of high school. A friend from my English class had lent the book to me and to be honest, I felt like I was missing some grand point. It was almost too simplistic; an easy-to-read novel that I blazed through and did not pause to let it impact me the way it did my second time reading. By that time, I had finished high school and it stirred a sense of understanding and nostalgia for a life I had barely left as I began college. I had heard the rumors of a film adaptation of the movie and became very excited to see such a simple, heartbreaking/warming story translated to cinema. And, with Stephen Chbosky at the helm as writer and director, it did not disappoint.
Starring Emma Watson (of Harry Potter fame), Logan Lerman (“Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief”) and up-and-coming Ezra Miller, “Perks” is for the high schoolers we all used to be, regardless of experience. The film explores the loneliness and insecurities of the every-day teenager, and we can relate throughout the film to the idea of “saving” those we love, even if that means we only look out for their happiness with no regard to our own.
Charlie is a wallflower – an observant introvert with a heart of gold. Affected by past and recent trauma, Charlie just wants a change and approaches high school with high hopes, only to realize how hard it is to get by and make friends. Like many teenagers, Charlie feels he cannot open up to his family about what happened (won’t spoil that one for you), and this makes him feel his loneliness all the more. Two step-sibling seniors, Patrick (Miller) and Sam (Watson) befriend and take Charlie under their wing, welcoming him to their group; a circle of friends that Sam calls, “The Island of Misfit Toys.”
Like a baby bird learning to fly, Charlie learns from his new friends to be a part of life and to find his own happiness, and to not just work for the happiness of others. As the film progresses, Charlie falls for the seemingly carefree and confident Sam, and he realizes she has her own struggles that are summed up in the film’s mantra, “We accept the love we think we deserve.” Faced with his friends’ eventual graduation, Charlie has to learn to be strong and happy on his own, and he is encouraged by his English teacher (played by Paul Rudd), as well as by Sam and Patrick, to exercise his gift for writing.
As Charlie narrates this story, writing to us, his “friend,” we are brought once more to the ache of internal struggle, the skipped heartbeat of first love, and the warmth of true friendship that gives us hope for the life we have ahead. Keeping within its PG-13 rating, there are (tastefully done) drug and alcohol references, sexual themes and parties with the occasional foul-mouthed teen. With its funny, heartstring-plucking moments and a splash of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”, “Perks” is a definite must-see.