One for the Wallflowers

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Teen dream: Sam and Charlie

As a high school teenager I would have been prime audience for The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  More often than not I was that quiet kid in the corner with a book, and as I spent my adolescent years in Manchester obviously The Smiths featured heavily in the soundtrack to my teenage angst.

However, after reading the book I was underwhelmed.  I think this was partly because I had heard of the book a long time before I got the chance to read it, and it seems that The Perks of Being a Wallflower has attracted quite a cult following.  It was a good coming of age story.  I identified with Charlie and mostly approved of the books his English teacher gave him to read.  The playlists for Charlie’s mix tapes were probably the best bit.  And that was all.  So the book didn’t live up to expectations and I probably won’t read it again.  For me it falls into the same category as A Catcher in the Rye.  There are a lot of similarities as Charlie acts as a younger sort of modern day Holden Caulfield.  The books deal with a lot of the same themes, but for me neither of them reaches the standard that their cult followers would have you believe.

Bearing all this in mind then, why did I want to see the film?

Curiosity.  While I didn’t love the book, I didn’t hate it either and The Perks of Being a Wallflower is still going to do more for me as a teen movie than something like Mean Girls (am I still that shy teenager with a book after all).  I also wanted to see how Emma Watson performed outside the Harry Potter bubble, and I wasn’t disappointed.

As the film was directed, written and produced by Stephen Chbosky (author of TPBWF) it was faithful to the book.  I think there were some grumblings amongst the cult followers of the book when it was announced it was going to be made into a film, but surely they were reassured when they heard of Chbosky’s involvement.  Despite his involvement, or maybe because of it, the film failed to cast a spell on me.

I think the real star of the show was Ezra Miller as Patrick (he previously blew me away as a psychopathic teenager in We Need to Talk About Kevin).  He was charismatic, funny and brilliant, definitely my favourite character on screen bringing some well needed comic relief from otherwise quite heavy subject matter.  Emma Watson was cool and charming as Sam.  I stopped watching the Harry Potter films after the first few, so I’m comparing her performance to that of her childhood self and it seems heavy handed for me to suggest that she has ‘grown up’.  Instead I’ll say that it was a successful foray into something new, to my (English) ears her American accent didn’t sound too diabolical, and I’ll keep an eye on her in the future.  In any case she’s still a better actor than Daniel Radcliffe who is just enduringly terrible.  I don’t have much to say about Logan Lerman as Charlie, he was suitably quiet and awkward and intense.  I think it is quite difficult to concentrate attention on such a quiet character, and there was a risk of him being eclipsed by more exuberant, eccentric characters (Patrick, Mary Elizabeth) who are a lot more entertaining to watch.

The teenagers in The Perks of Being a Wallflower for the most part deal with pretty normal teenage stuff; highschool, bullying, drugs, sexuality, relationship troubles.  Watching this stuff makes me feel both lethargic and comforted; I know this world, it all looks like familiar territory – and it still makes me feel better to watch this rearranged version of my teenage life at age 24.  However, all of these teens live in beautiful middle class houses, and somehow or other they will all probably make it to college.  Their problems occupy a small space, because ultimately weighing up their backgrounds and stable homes you know that it will all work out in the end.  The uncomfortable aspect to this film then isn’t the bullying or the relationship problems (Charlie’s awkward non-starter relationship with Mary Elizabeth for example) but the creepy undercurrents of domestic violence, childhood sexual abuse and suicide.  The darker side of life in those beautiful middle class houses.  It is the way that Chbosky deals with these issues in particular which is perhaps why the book attracted such a cult following.  He delves into some dark depths where other teen films and books don’t go, and that’s why even though I didn’t fall in love with The Perks of Being a Wallflower I would still recommend it to others like me who are still troubled teens at heart.

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