It’s Not Shit: The Perks of Being a Wallflower
WARNING: Extremely biased review incoming. If you’re only here to get your I Just Hate Everything fix (I can dream), then I implore you to ignore me wanking on about my “feelings” and skip down to Reasons to Hate. Otherwise, come walk through the fire with me.
So I think I better start off with a bit of sourness before I completely lose all my dignity.
I saw the trailer for this movie when I went to see Twishite: Breaking Bladders Part are-you-fucking-kidding-me-they-made-it-into-2-movies. And I was not convinced. It looked like another overindulgent teen movie that was all about how, like, high school is totes the most important time of our lives evar Lolz #yolo.
And yes, that element does creep through every now and then.
But The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the only movie this year, and definitely in a long time, that has actually made me feel something for longer than 5 minutes after watching it.
It’s been almost 24 hours, and I still can’t get it off my mind. And that’s an accomplishment. What, with all the porn and vidya games us kids have these days.
TL;DR Aching, yearning and affectingly sincere, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is more than just an “awkward kid finds friends” dramedy. For anyone who’s ever felt on the outside, this will resonate with breathtaking closeness. And for all its faults (which I will get to), I wouldn’t be okay with giving this anything other than: 5 out of 5 stars.
I have failed as a hipster.
The plot, set in the early 90s, gives us Charlie (Logan Lerman), an awkward high school freshman who doesn’t have any friends and is debilitatingly shy. He is swept up by Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson), seniors and step-siblings who proudly indulge their non-conformist weirdness. Falling into their group introduces Charlie to dating, drugs and a severe crush on Sam. However, Charlie is hiding a deep darkness, having suffered the loss of his previous best friend to suicide, and a history of molestation from his aunt when he was younger. The stress of his fast-paced new life takes its toll. Sub plots include Patrick’s secret gay relationship with a football player, Charlie’s charity from a sympathetic English teacher (Paul Rudd), Charlie’s sister’s (Nina Dobrev) abusive boyfriend, and Sam trying to shake off her party girl past.
I know I talk a big game here on I Just Hate Everything, and it’s not all unsubstantiated bravado. But we were all teenagers at some point, and the only people who won’t like this movie will do so because they won’t be able to relate to Charlie. And those people will be the truly soulless, privileged fuck-knuckles (the Serena Van Der Woodsens of the world) who have never had a single worry in their lives.
For the rest of us, Charlie is an amazing character. There is such a heartbraking power behind his soft-spoken, delicate, selfless story. All throughout this movie Charlie looks out for everyone else and tries desperately to keep the effects of his traumas at bay. And when he does slip, like the blackout fight in the cafeteria to save Patrick, the unbridled guilt he feels is just devastating.
The standout moment for me would have to be Charlie’s breakdown (also, Nina Dobrev gets to be awesome in this scene. So sue me). Sam has just left for college (we’ve also finally had Aunt Helen’s abuse revealed to us) and Charlie is overwhelmed by that, as well as the sexual contact he had with her the night before, and a terrifying flash of all the pain he’s witnessed. Candace (Dobrev) is at a friend’s house when Charlie calls her, crying, saying that he feels responsible for Helen’s accidental death and generally not being a good person. Candace immediately orders her friends to send the police to the house while she tries to keep Charlie calm. Everything works out okay (Charlie doesn’t kill himself), but the crushing sadness and tension in that scene, both from Charlie’s guilt and Candace’s knowing concern, is heart-stopping and, just for a moment, world-shaking.
I mean, I don’t fucking care about anything, but I really really wanted Charlie to not die. Like, I really was invested in this. Really.
Why I DON’T hate this movie:
Charlie is just a brilliant character. His perseverance is nothing but admirable. He has no friends and, as we know via his narration, he is literally counting the days of high school. But he still keeps trying. He still goes to school, he still goes to the dance (alone). He even goes to the school football game (again, alone) and buys snacks and sits by himself. Just wanting so badly to be included. To participate.
His selflessness and consideration for others is also absloutely endearing. This can be seen in his standing up for Patrick in the cafeteria, and in a more subtle way, his attempt to intervene when Candace is slapped by her boyfriend. He’s not some emo, piece-of-shit cunt who goes and cries under his sheets while vigorously applying eyeliner. He just honestly wants to help and be a part of people’s lives.
Patrick also gets to show off his fragility. Although his confidence is what we mostly see, when he takes Charlie out at night following the ugly break up of him and football Brad, we witness just enough vulnerability to make him something more than a fabulous, gay no-flaws. And when he kisses Charlie, although Charlie doesn’t kiss back, it’s such an undeniably sweet moment for a character who is otherwise so strong. Aww.
The casting is pretty impressive. We’ve got Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson, The Three Musketeers), Emma Watson (Harry Potter. If you’re into that), Ezra Miller (We Need to Talk About Kevin), Nina Dobrev (TVD), Mae Whitman (Tinkerbell’s voice), Dylan McDermott (American Horror Story), Kate Walsh (Grey’s, Private Practice), Paul Rudd (Clueless, most things Judd Apatow does) and Melanie Lynskey as Aunt Helen (Two and a half Men). Brilliant.
Although the movie is kind of a clusterfuck of teen angst (see below for full whingeing), it never felt so forced as to be unbelievable. This is probably due to most of the “big issue” moments taking place off-screen. Fucking tasteful as hell.
The period setting is a good way to absolve it of the usual post-modern, teen irony bullshit that clogs up most things. Mix tapes are so much more romantic than playlists.
Although the Sam/Charlie romance is a key element, it never becomes a malignant plot tumor. Thank god.
The main characters are part of a Rocky Horror performance group at a theatre. Cue Patrick in full Frank N Furter kit doing the floorshow sequence. Perfection is not kind enough.
The movie makes a good point during the ending monologue about how hard it is for people who have grown past their mid-teens to appreciate that kind of drama. This is an extremely valid point (and also a great way to pre-empt reviewers who dismiss it as melodramatic. Sharp) and one that should particularly apply to someone who runs a review site called I Just Hate Everything. Cool.
Oh ffs, I could go on about this forever. Let’s move on.
Reasons to hate:
It’s my time to shine.
My single greatest problem with this movie is a trap that I see many teen outings fall into: overblowing the importance of music. It literally makes my skin crawl when these little dipshits go on and on about how important listening to music is to their identity blah blah blah. No. No it isn’t. Yes, I enjoyed music as a teenager (spoiler alert, I still do), but I didn’t live for it. I understand that it’s important, but I just hate when a character is so pretentious as to believe it’s that essential to who they are.
There is an overstuffing of serious issues. Charlie, Sam and Aunt Helen were all sexually abused as children. Candace’s boyfriend hits her. Patrick dates Brad on the downlow. Brad’s father is homophobic and beats him severely. Charlie is arbitrarily bullied. Depression, suicide, people dying in car accidents, love triangles, stressful college applications. Good grief, we get it. It’s like they couldn’t decide which teen problems to use so they just picked all of them.
Sam turns out to be a bit boring. FYI, I have never seen a Harry Potter movie, so all I’ve really seen Emma Watson in was My Week With Marilyn. She does a decent enough job, but of the 3 leads, Sam was easily the least compelling.
Both Sam and Patrick are basically Manic Pixie Dream Girls for Charlie (complete with haircut for Sam). They just come out of nowhere and make everything amazing.
The movie is very cavalier about its portrayal of drug use. I mean, I’ll defend my alcoholism to the ends of the earth (cheers!), but I’ve always had a problem with this kind of thing. The acid trip is horrible. Charlie ends up passing out in the snow. He could have totally died. Then when he’s being questioned about how that came to happen, it’s played with a sitcom level of irreverence. Awkward.
The “flying in the car” thing is very visibly contrived. It’s especially painful when it returns for the final scene in a misguided attempt at a meaningful echo.
The closing narration is also similarly cringe-worthy. The line “We are infinite” would have had me retching on my popcorn and Fanta if I hadn’t been in such a good mood already. It sucks because Charlie went the whole movie without invoking hyperbole, then he spoils it at the very last second.
Mae Whitman’s character goes from breezy, too-cool-for-school punk to stage 5 clinger girlfriend from hell with a snap of the fingers. Simply just to facilitate the plot. Ugh.
Oh, and at the end literally all of Charlie’s new friends have graduated and are gone. What does he do now?
But quibbles aside, this is without a doubt my favourite movie so far this year. It isn’t just a successful exercise in genre. It isn’t just a surprise package in contrast with its marketing. It isn’t just about a great lead character with snappy one-liners. It’s an earnest film that is radiant with sincerity. It’s haunting and hopeful. It’s pretty much amazing. It’s not shit. 5 out of 5 stars.