Movies: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

I read this book way back when, but by the time I got around to the film version I only had the vaguest recollection of the story itself. The novel left more of an impressionistic memory rather than anything vivid and detailed. Which isn't to say it wasn't good; I recall liking it quite a bit at the time. But I've slept and read and done a lot of other things since then.

In short, I can't now pick apart The Perks of Being a Wallflower (film) in comparison to the book because I don't remember enough of the book to make a comparison.

What I can say is that the movie does a better-than-average job of tapping into the adolescent experience. Even though the protagonist Charlie is more awkward even than the typical teen, the whole of the movie is accessible to anyone who has lived through (or perhaps is currently living through) that terrible transition from childhood to adulthood. And Charlie is an extreme example of how some bloom later than others.

There isn't much plot in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and in most movies that would be a serious problem. But what this one explores is Charlie's freshman year of high school. He starts as a friendless loner and stumbles into an odd group of comrades that bring new dimensions to his otherwise flat life. Viewers follow Charlie through the ups and downs of negotiating the strange world of teen interaction (and he has one good English teacher, played by Paul Rudd, to help him along). This is interesting enough to keep viewers watching.

On top of this are layers of narrative not fully formed. More like when you buy something and try to pull the price sticker off and it only comes away in tiny, sticky flakes. We discover Charlie did have a best friend, but that this friend committed suicide. That he had a beloved Aunt Helen. That he sometimes has mental episodes and blacks out.

Besides Charlie we get a solid showing of supporting players: the secretly gay guy (and his even more secretly gay jock boyfriend), the rich girl, the stoner, etc. They sound like stereotypes and caricatures but in The Perks of Being a Wallflower they are given proper depth and feeling. These are the people you knew in school, or if you're still in school, these are the people you know, or at least know of.

Truly, in terms of films, this is one of the better ones I've seen in a long time. The first 20 to 30 minutes are rocky, but maybe that just reflects Charlie's instability; once he meets Sam and Patrick, the film pulls together just as Charlie does, and from there on out it is a fine film very much worth its 102 minutes.

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