Every now and then, contemporary popular culture yields a work that proves coming of age tales can be done without agonizing clichés and melodramatic urgencies; that maybe…just maybe, a “teen movie” doesn’t have to be so juvenile after all. Last year’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a shining example of a story brave enough to break the mold.
Charlie (Logan Lerman) is an isolated introvert who’s had a rough year. His friend committed suicide and he’s about to start his first day of high school. Guarded and wary, Charlie is afraid to open up to his parents about how he’s really feeling for fear of reliving his darkest days. While at school, he meets two seniors – Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller) – a step-bro-and-sis duo who help Charlie land on his feet as they all learn to live and grow despite their imperfect surroundings and pasts.
Perks navigates heavy terrain, but doesn’t get bogged down by it. Suicide, drugs, alcohol, first loves, sexual abuse, and mental illness are all touched upon with sensitivity and subtlety, showing that everyone has his or her baggage (and vice) to bare. Yet like in life, how these characters react and move forward through their struggles speaks volumes.
Written and directed by Stephen Chbosky, and adapted from Chbosky’s 1999 novel of the same name, Perks is full of heart and never uproots its characters from the harsh realities of life. The voice of its characters carries well and feels like the early 90’s teen it’s supposed to be. Though Watson and Lerman are beyond endearing and lovable, a special shoutout goes to the versatile Mae Whitman for her supporting role of Mary Elizabeth. Crossing over from her day job at Parenthood, Whitman conveys all facets of a female teen punk as Charlie’s friend and later, girlfriend. She’s delightful, as always. Paul Rudd pops in as Charlie’s English teacher, and Special Effects/Make-up/Horror extraordinaire Tom Savini plays shop teacher Mr. Callahan. And a Joan Cusack cameo? I can go on and on.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a modern day Breakfast Club that completely understands its characters and the world they live in (which is accentuated by the stellar soundtrack – isn’t music crucial to the journey?). It transcends the “teen movie” genre by forcing its characters to face life head on and accept that sometimes, life can suck. But the movie is about what we learn after jumping over the hurdles of our growing pains and personal demons. It’s about those fleeting moments of introspective clarity and self-discovery that really make life worthwhile.