In a world of loneliness, self reflection and mixed cassette tapes, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” revisits 1990s high school with a party of sympathetic outcasts.
In a way, “Wallflower” can be summed up by Patrick (Ezra Miller) when he says, “My life is officially an after-school special.” But while accurate, it would also be unfair to write off this unflinching journey as simply as that, especially as it looks at some of life’s least understood characters.
Among said characters is Charlie (Logan Lerman), the narrator of the story and unlucky student preparing to embark on his first day of high school. Managing an entire summer without a single friend, Charlie prepares himself for the promise of a very lonely school year by envisioning the inevitable freedom he’ll enjoy on his last day as a senior.
As expected, school includes all of the humiliation and pain Charlie anticipated. With the exception of an understanding English teacher (Paul Rudd), Charlie is forced to face each terrible day by himself.
Enter seniors Patrick and step-sister Sam (Emma Watson). Facing their own issues, they don’t hesitate to include Charlie when they notice him alone at a football game and later at a school dance. As the three become closer, they begin to share the stories that made them who they are, and discuss what the future holds for kids with their particular challenges.
But while Patrick, who is gay, deals with the relationship he shares with a member of the school’s football team, and Sam tries to move past the history that left her with “a reputation,” Charlie holds onto his secrets, making it difficult for his friends to fully understand him, and for him to progress through the darkness that follows him.
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” has no central grounding conflict, leaving the burden of selling this coming-of-age tale to the cast. Each player does an admirable job, with Watson proving she can carry her own in a post-Harry Potter career.
From a parental perspective, this is a very heavy film. The PG-13 rating is a generous one considering the frank sexual dialogue, regular drug use, language, partial nudity and the committed manner with which the story addresses many controversial topics, including suicide, domestic abuse, child abuse, homosexuality, religion and bigotry — to name a few.
But “Wallflower” is also a beautiful film, if not an important one. It doesn’t make excuses for any of its questionable behavior, but doesn’t condone it either.
Instead, writer and director Stephen Chbosky takes a step away from any judgment calls and simply suggests these kids exist, and they’re dealing with some heavy burdens, whether we as people choose to help them or not.
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” delivers a moving story presented by an impressive young cast, though it can’t be stated enough that this is not a film for everyone. The heavy themes and often flashy scenes will definitely turn some people away. But for others, this is an honest piece of nostalgia that you may just be glad you took the time to experience.
You can contact Travis at TSPoppleton@gmail.com.