Last night I decided to make a hot chocolate, curl up and finally watch The Perks of Being A Wallflower. Apart from knowing it was an adaptation of a novel and starred Emma Watson, I wasn’t too sure what to expect.
What I got was a sweet, touching film that also weaves around and delves into deep, serious issues.
It’s the incredible performances by the 3 lead actors (Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller and Emma Watson) that make the film so heart-warming yet so heart-wrenching at the same time. The innocence of freshman Charlie, the film’s central character, and his attempts to make friends during his first days at high school are what make him so loveable from the beginning. From the film’s opening scenes we get a sense of his vulnerability and loneliness. It’s only when he strikes up a conversation with senior Patrick (Ezra Miller) that he meets Pat’s stepsister Sam (Emma Watson), is invited to his first party and forms friendships that Charlie gains invaluable life lessons from about love, friendship, and happiness.
It’s the ease at which Patrick and Sam are with Charlie that allows him to blossom as a person: Patrick’s humour and confidence gives Charlie the sense of belonging that he’d been searching for, and Sam’s suggestions of music to listen to (her favourite songs about love) and her care for him are what show Charlie the meaning of love and how to love someone. Sam and Patrick soon become his two friends that you wish you’d had to guide you through the testing and awkward years at high school.
Dotted around the film are flashes to when Charlie was a young boy. He briefly mentions at different points in the film about how he doesn’t want to have ‘the bad thoughts’ again, he reveals to Sam that his best friend committed suicide and we’re shown the moment when his Aunt Helen – who he names as one of his favourite people – passed away. In a life filled with tragedy, we see that it’s his friendships with Sam and Patrick that are the positives in his life, which makes their friendship more of a blessing than Patrick and Sam truly realise.
Ezra’s performance as Patrick is flawless. He plays the class clown to help the freshmen feel at ease, the fabulous Dr. Frank-N-Furter in his friends’ depiction of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the theatre, and the extroverted senior that brushes off negative comments and being called “Nothing”. He loves nothing more than driving through the tunnel with his stepsister listening to good old rock n’ roll music. Despite his humour and confidence, he is tormented by his love for Brad, the popular quarterback that demands their relationship be kept a secret in fear of what Brad’s father would do. It’s only a matter of time before their secret is revealed with serious, damaging consequences. The first impressions that we get of Patrick is that he simply deals with any issue with his positivity, wit and confidence. It’s only after Charlie accidentally walks in on Patrick’s and Brad’s rendezvous that we see that there are some issues that he struggles to deal with. He’s in love with a man that loves him, but they must remain strangers to the outside world: a decision which makes Patrick suffer emotionally, and Brad physically.
Emma Watson as Sam is a perfect choice for the film. Confident, beautiful and a romantic, Sam becomes the object of Charlie’s affections. Sam’s friendship with stepbrother Patrick allows the siblings to be themselves in the school environment, a place that tends to persuade teens to act like something that they’re not. It’s their confidence in themselves and their uniqueness that draws Charlie and the audience to them. When Charlie tells Sam of his best friend’s suicide, she shares the story with Patrick and the two decide to open their arms to Charlie. It’s in Sam’s search for love that we see her more vulnerable side, as she dates the older Craig – much to Charlie’s disappointment. As we see her through Charlie’s eyes, we find that her search for love is what excites her and is what she wants to surround herself with – understandably. Sam’s love of listening to old rock and roll music comes from the feeling of looking across the room and finding the person meant for her. It’s this old music (including David Bowie’s Heroes, which the gang call “The Tunnel Song”) that gives her the urge to stand on the back of Patrick’s truck as he drives through the tunnel and pretend that she’s flying. For Sam, love is freedom and empowering. It’s her feelings about love that probably make it so easy for the sensitive, caring Charlie to fall for her.
Charlie, played by Logan Lerman, is who really made the film what it was for me. His sweet, shy and innocent qualities make him loveable, and the happiness that he’s in while he’s with Patrick and Sam gives his character gained confidence yet make him vulnerable at the same time. When he’s with his friends he’s happy, talkative (mainly when he’s high off drugs with his friends) and caring. He dates Mary-Elizabeth, a mutual friend of Sam and Patrick, because he doesn’t want to hurt her feelings, he holds off his feelings for Sam because he wants to see her happy with Craig and thinks that she is above his league, he has his first fistfight to protect Patrick, and holds a dark secret about his Aunt Helen because he feels guilty about her death. But when Charlie is away from Sam and Patrick he slips back into the darkness with the feelings of isolation and guilt that have haunted him for years. During these times we can’t help but feel the need to help Charlie, but in order to do that we must first understand where his sadness is coming from. Charlie’s simple observations of people are what make the film so subtle in its issues, persuading us to pick up on the character’s qualities, how they might be feeling and why they might be feeling that way. Charlie only touches the surface, but this is what makes him easy to be around and makes the film so much more troubling as we peel back the layers. Charlie’s social awkwardness, seen as a positive and adorable quality by his friends, has a deeper, much more troubling origin.
With Sam and Patrick soon leaving school for college, can Charlie be happy, remain stable and block his bad thoughts and memories without them around? The truth behind Charlie’s issues is revealed towards the end of the film in the midst of his breakdown, and we understand so much more about the caring, shy character of Charlie the wallflower.
Chbosky’s adaptation of his novel to the film is wonderful; we gain insights of all of the characters and their qualities whilst still hearing Charlie’s thoughts and learning about his character. Each character is developed and rich, meaning that the film is of the same quality. We hear Charlie’s thoughts through the voiceover and we gain so much knowledge about Charlie, Sam and Patrick from the interactions with his friends and the times away from them.
The use of flashbacks allows us to slowly piece together Charlie’s qualities in the present with his past. His grief is juxtaposed with his guilt, and his happiness with his sadness. His memories of his Aunt contrast with his present, and the feelings and memories that haunt him soon boil over. But it’s Charlie’s friendship with Patrick and Sam, and the ups-and-downs that they go through together, that highlights the importance of friendship and of just how lucky you become when you find true friends that stick with you.
The Perks of Being A Wallflower is a story that has clearly been handled with care and much thought as with each character, each turning point, each word spoken and each feeling felt, there is a realness within them. The film easily and quickly entered my list of favourite films, and I can’t wait to re-watch it.