The Perks of Being a Wallflower: Misfit Manifesto

This teen flick explores the insecurities and pains of adolescence through a group of misfits, with great writing and an outstanding young cast.

It’s tough being a teenager. Cinema has recorded that with much gusto, from The Breakfast Club all the way to Mean Girls. While these movies ring true, hence their cult status, they don’t exactly focus on emotionally disturbed misfits.

Stephen Chbosky (screenwriter of the Rent movie) wrote and directed The Perks of Being a Wallflower (based on his own critically acclaimed novel), a bittersweet coming-of-age tale with a good dose of psychological distress. Charlie (a new star is born in Logan Lerman) is an introverted freshman who has trouble making friends until he befriends senior Patrick (Ezra Miller), an outsider whom the rest of the kids at school call “nothing.” Patrick then introduces him to his step-sister Sam (a stand-out Emma Watson), and the three become inseparable.

If you’re looking for a plot in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, don’t. It’s a story about characters, about their insecurities and their ways of coping with them. Patrick is gay, and his boyfriend Brad (Johnny Simmons) plays in the school’s football team, hence Brad is one of the popular kids and doesn’t want anyone to know about the relationship, especially not his ultra-religious dad. Sam has a flaky past of sleeping around. Charlie’s best friend shot himself, and he is also constantly haunted by images of his aunt who died in a car accident when he was a little boy.

The underlying trauma goes deeper than we think. These are characters who are afraid of intimacy, yet it is all they need to make their lives turn around.

Chbosky’s writing stands out, and all of the characters in the film are memorable and relatable on many levels. The casting is spot-on. As Charlie, Lerman is an emotional force. His character carries the film. The awkwardness, the shyness and the feelings he has for Sam reach out of the screen and grab you by the heart.

Miller (We Need to Talk About Kevin) is a breath of fresh air as Patrick, the comic relief in the film. When Charlie says he wants to be a writer, Patrick points at himself and his step-sister, and yelps: “Write about us! You can call it Slut and the Falcon. Make us solve crimes!” As Sam, Watson is sweet but mysterious. There is something dark about her (besides the fact that her favourite band is the Smiths).

Kate Walsh and Dylan McDermott co-star as Charlie’s parents, and Nina Dobrev (The Vampire Diaries) is Candace, his sister. Paul Rudd plays Charlie’s English teacher and personal mentor, who also delivers the most memorable line in the movie (and the book): “We accept the love we think we deserve.”

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an earnest film about the dizzying, often painful experience of growing up. With great writing and an outstanding young cast, it stands out from a tradition of happy-go-lightly teen movies by digging deeper into its characters’ psyches and making them bigger than mere stereotypes. Punctuated by David Bowie’s cult misfit song “Heroes,” The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a celebration of the survival of the un-fittest. ■

The Perks of Being a Wallflower opens Oct. 5.

Radina Papukchieva blogs at The Café Phenomenon. @Papukchieva on Twitter.

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