I am convinced that a single book changed the course of my high school experience. While the definitive series of our generation, like the Harry Potter books, will always hold a special place in my life, none of those are the books to which I’m referring. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” was the one that truly influenced my youth.
Written by Stephen Chbosky and published in 1999 by MTV, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is a quintessential coming of age story for any misfit. Following in the steps of characters like Holden Caufield from Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye,” the main character Charlie feels isolated from his peers. He’s anxious about starting high school friendless, until he meets Patrick and Sam, a step-brother and sister pair who color his potentially bleak freshman year with experiences of life and learning.
Thirteen years later, Charlie’s story is still relevant. Fans of the book were elated to learn of the 2012 release date of a movie, starring Emma Watson as Sam. While she was one of the most well known names in the movie, Logan Lerman (Charlie) and Ezra Miller (Patrick) shine in their roles as the male leads in the film. However, with any adaptation for the big screen, ardent fans are going to worry that some of the magic will be lost. Because of Chbosky’s roles as both director and screenwriter for the movie, this is simply not the case for this adaptation. I will admit that, because I hold the book in such high esteem, I was somewhat apprehensive about the movie’s release. My fears quickly faded away as the movie started.
As the story begins, Charlie is narrating a letter to an anonymous friend to whom he is relating the experiences of his freshman year. The novel is told entirely through these letters, so this isn’t the last time they are referenced in the movie. The first few scenes of the film reveal Charlie’s reserved and observant nature through his missteps during his first days as a high school freshman. Until he sits next to Patrick at a football game and is introduced to Sam shortly thereafter, Charlie is merely reflecting about the lives of others, instead of actively participating in his own.
Those looking for a quick paced, hysterical movie will want to proceed with caution. While riddled with the antics of teenagers, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is not a plot centered action flick. Rather, the story is so powerful because of the changes the audience sees unfolding in the characters because of their experiences.
Although Charlie and his peers navigate some controversial waters, such as drug use, homophobia and sexual abuse, the movie still left me with a sense of peace and catharsis. While this may seem like a contradictory statement, seeing the characters deal with negative experiences by becoming even more appreciative of the good in their lives gave me a positive outlook leaving the theatre. For example, one of the most famous scenes in the story depicts Sam climbing into the back of a truck, standing up and listening to very loud music, while Patrick drives her through a tunnel into Philadelphia.
Charlie’s insight of “feeling infinite” is a frequently quoted sentiment. The demographic that seems to respond most to this scene is teenagers; however, I think the message of optimism among life’s hardships is one that a viewer of any age can apply to their own state of mind. Despite the fact that I read the novel for the first time my freshman year of high school, seeing the movie still held all the charm of my first exposure to the story. It is true that I have technically outgrown the characters. While Sam and Patrick graduate high school in the course of the book, Charlie is just a freshman. This fact does not limit my enjoyment of the story in any capacity. The wisdom of the tale goes beyond just high school experiences.
As a wallflower myself, Charlie’s story speaks to me. But this story is not just for outcasts or people outside the mainstream. The beauty of the movie is that it will provide enjoyment to a vast audience. I think there’s an aspect of Charlie’s life that anyone can relate to.
Although “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is only playing locally at Regal Downtown West in Knoxville, I hear that going on a drive can make you feel “infinite.”