The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Posted on: 12th October 2012  |

Director: Stephen Chbosky
Starring: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller
UK Release date: 3 October 2012
Certificate: 12A (103 mins)

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a year in the life of Charlie, a teenager who suffers from bouts of mental illness as well as all the other afflictions of being a teenager. In this his first year of high school, he makes friends with a group of seniors, the most important of which are Sam and her stepbrother Patrick, who not only show him how to have a good time but also provide for him vital peer support.

The film is based on the novel by Stephen Chbosky, who also wrote the screenplay and directed the film. Chbosky does an excellent job of translating his engaging novel into an equally engaging and moving film. It portrays all the vivacity and recklessness of youth and the awkwardness and uncertainty of adolescence. The characters are discovering who they are but have not yet learned to be comfortable with themselves. At the same time, they are dealing with adult desires and emotions without any of the experience and wisdom of life to help them through.

The main theme of the film is the power of friendship and runs as an undercurrent throughout the entire story, occasionally rising to be explored in greater depth. We often feel helpless to intervene when we see our friends in trouble or making poor decisions or being misused by others, but people often find themselves in such situations because they do not believe that they are worth better. The Perks of Being a Wallflower reminds us that the greatest thing we can do for our friends and family is to let them know that they are loved and valued.

The cast are superb, and Logan Lerman shines as shy and troubled Charlie. The characters and their relationships seem very real due to a combination of good writing and good acting. The script moves effortlessly between quirky humour and emotional drama, and the film shows an astute understanding of people and their relationships which is all the more powerful for being seen through the eyes of young people who themselves do not yet understand.

One of the most moving aspects of the film is the portrayal of mental illness. When it is so misunderstood even today, it is encouraging to see an honest and real portrayal both of what it is like for the sufferer and what it looks like to those around him. Charlie is withdrawn and badly needs the society of others, and he is fortunate to have friends who love him and a family who also know how to recognise symptoms of his illness and show their support. Charlie’s illness is handled in a subtle way that never descends into melodrama, making it all the more powerful and frightening.

Humorous, almost flippant, drug use appears prominently in a few scenes and may be offensive to some viewers. I cannot comment on the realism or otherwise of teenage drug use, but the tone may cause some concern for parents of impressionable viewers. Also, I would like to warn viewers about a particular detail which many are likely to find shocking and offensive. Charlie’s family are Catholic, and in a scene change from Christmas Mass to a party with his friends, Charlie is shown receiving Communion; the image of the host on his tongue is replaced by one of LSD. Though this is in poor taste, I do not believe that this image was calculated to offend believers or to denigrate the Church. There is no sense of such animosity towards God or the Church in the film, and indeed religion only seems to appear as a family activity which marks the progression of the year. I would not wish viewers to miss this otherwise excellent film on account of this lapse of good judgement, but I do wish through foreknowledge to soften the blow when it comes.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a moving film about self-discovery, about coming to terms with who we are and about the importance of friendship. Though the characters are teenagers, there is a certain maturity to some of the topics addressed which will resonate with older viewers much more than with the teenage crowd, but the dominant theme of the saving power of friendship is relevant to all.

Kristina Glicksman

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