It wasn’t until Alexander Payne’s Election that I began to recognize the hallways and gymnasiums, with its concrete walls and bland off white interior— resembling a prison rather than a place of learning, Christian Slater and James Spader did not go here, only the kid that yells “eat me” during high school assemblies and sad history teachers. In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, while the interiors have a more cinematic appeal, the daily struggles of high school are all here.
In the 1986 film Stand By Me, based on Steven Kings The Body, Chris Chambers tells his friend Gordy, “you might even write about us guys if you ever get hard-up for material,” and when the not so dead pets, and scary clowns went on hiatus Steven King did just that by unraveling a childhood where the only spooks were a dead brother and cruel adults. While working his way up the Hollywood machine writer and director Stephen Chbosky had a similar purpose when he wroteWallflower in episodic form, which was based on his childhood and later constructed into a novel. Suburban kids who resided just outside of Pittsburg— football games followed by flavorless restaurants and basement parties. Due to his experience as a filmmaker Chbosky was able to do what most writers only dream of, adapt his novel to the screen as both the screenwriter and director. There would be no dimwitted cameo, but full control over the intention of his work.
Some of us were a part of the high school spectacle, while others were wallflowers— watching the social gatherings like a spectator sport, but dreaming more about the future or the transgressions of the past than taking part in the present. The beautiful fog of retrospect makes us look fondly at those memories—every waking hour was spent with friends, who were our whole world. When we try to replicate those relationships as adults something is always missing, a certain chemistry is gone. Our friends in childhood would mold us into our present selves, there was no notion of seeking out a connection, we would simply diffuse into different versions of each other.
In Wallflower Charlie (Logan Lerman) is starting his first year of High School and has no friends. His old soul prefers reading and writing to social contact, and when a girl in his honors English class say’s “nice trapper keeper faggot,” it’s easy to see why. Whether you were the one uttering those cutting words or having them sliced at you, the harshness of High School comes flooding back in this captivating coming of age film.
There were certain kids who were fearless and could see through the bullshit of the jock straps and nasty bitches. In Wallflower Patrick (Ezra Miller) is a Senior who the jocks refer to as “nothing,” but he is truly something with his performance based mannerisms and edgy good looks, Miller is more of a force than simply an actor as his striking performance in We Need to Talk About Kevin demonstrates. Patrick doesn’t seem to be afraid of anything, particularly Charlie, the strange kid in his shop class who he invites to sit next to him at a football game. Charlie and Patrick are soon accompanied by Sam (Emma Watson) an outgoing beautiful senior who strives for connection and authenticity in a world which dismisses both. Charlie may know his way around an 18th century novel, but Sam and Patrick teach him about a life beyond the pages.
With the films era somewhat hidden, mixed tapes and musical references are jumbled together against minimal costume designs, every high schooler who lived in the pre-internet era can relate to the simplicity of this world. Charlie, Sam and Patrick’s friendship become interwoven as they begin to unravel the multiple tragedies that have impacted their lives. On the surface Wallflower is about the last year of high school bliss when friendships surpassed every aspect of life. As the film progresses we find ourselves in all of these characters as they leap into adulthood assuming that somehow overnight everything will change.
Addresses may change as true love fades, but high school, like childhood stays with you. With its damage and splendor continually imprinted on our brains, childhood will send us to countless therapy sessions and one night stands trying to erase its transgressions—with confrontation as the final obstacle. Charlie must confront childhood tragedy while still a child as he and his friends begin to navigate what needs to change in order to make adulthood a bit more pleasant.
There are perks but unfortunately more disadvantages to being a wallflower, a mind alone is one that cannot deal with confrontation or make decisions that include personal happiness. When Sam confronts Charlie over the status of their relationship, she has to shout “what do YOU want!” before he is able to resolve his true desires.
The beauty of Wallflower is that it’s not a high school movie for high schooler’s, but adults who understand the microscope of a time when everything mattered; like the mixed tape we spent countless hours creating for our friends, the emotional impact of life was so overwhelming and new to us, either through music or writing, it needed to be expressed. When children and career find their way into our lives teenage optimism is usually the first to go.
In comes the daily monotony of work and household tasks, the arrogance that shaped teenage illusions of grandeur, has been cloaked with common sense. After viewing Wallflower the cloak comes off a bit, what would my teenage self think of my life now and have I lived up to her expectations? The faraway colleges and that one year you decided to live in New York City left you clicking your heals back to familiar. The film had several opportunities to be corny but Chbosky avoided this with the subtlety of his writing and his actors. When Sam touches Charlie during a romantic exchange, Lerman could have conjured a dramatic response, but chose a distinct facial expression which keeps the audience engaged.
“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”
– Stand By Me