The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the kind of film that has the
audience sighing aloud at all the right bits. It's the kind of film
that makes you feel warm and fuzzy and want to hold the hand of the
person you are next to - my best friend's boyfriend, in my case.
Awkward on many levels.
Adolescent angst is a winning formula - we've all 'been there,
done that' and it's something The Perks of Being a Wallflower
depicts brilliantly. Charlie has just started his first year of
high school and it's not going too well; he has been lonely and
unwell since his best friend Michael killed himself a few months
earlier. Detached from his parents and struggling to make new
friends, Charlie soon falls in with a gang of misfits - the cocky
queer Patrick, the intellectual feminist Mary Elizabeth, and err -
Emma Watson (Sam) who is more of a miscast than a misfit, as she
has obviously never been a misfit in her life.
The comfort he finds in these new friends helps him through school
and brings about his 'coming-of-age'. Okay, so it's infested with
clichés - the closet case jock, the making of mix-tapes, or the
sensitive English teacher (Paul Rudd) who hands over a copy of
Catcher in the Rye. Still, Charlie discovers music and books and
love and ambition and friendship and pain and hurt and loss - all
those things that you feel so acutely when you're growing up. It's
everyman's story - but is it?
Charlie is haunted by memories of his Aunt Helen who was killed in
a car crash on his seventh birthday. These memories play such an
oddly prominent role that it's impossible not to think it's all a
bit weird. Or significant.
Turns out Aunt Helen is significant; Charlie was sexually abused
by Aunt Helen as a child but seemed to have either buried the
memory of it, or not understood its importance.
This belated surprise revelation undermines both a very powerful
coming-of-age film, and the gravity of sexual abuse. All through,
the audience are saying to themselves - 'Yes, this is my story, I
feel this, this is what I went through.' But in a second, that is
stolen from the audience; we feel cheated and selfish - how can we
empathise with such horrific sexual abuse? How could we have
possibly compared our experience to Charlie's far more terrible
one? It puts your average teenage outcast experience on par with
And because of where this revelation comes in the film - right at
the end - it's dealt with in a swift, flippant manner. Charlie
spends what seems like a couple of nights in a psychiatric
hospital, his parents shed a few tears, and then he's all healed.
Perhaps the strongest element of the film is Ezra Miller's (We
Need to Talk About Kevin) character who is out and proud, but
having a long-term clandestine relationship with a closeted jock.
Miller, who identifies as queer himself, plays Patrick with a hint
of camp, but a tonne of wit, passion, appeal and power. It's a
shame that this role was yet again sidelined for the implausible
heterosexual love story between the freshman Charlie and the high
school senior Emma Watson.
Whilst the film delivers some formulaic oohs and ahhs, and
certainly leaves you feeling as if someone has reached into your
chest given your heart a little tickle, it's Miller's stunning
performance that really gives this film its merit.
Trivia: It's kind of ironic that the one song
in the whole film these friends - who are like, sooo into
alternative music - can't recognise is David Bowie's iconic
'Heroes'. Given that it was pretty much ubiquitous over the Olympic
summer, it's likely everyone in Britain knows the song. But did you
know the band The Wallflowers actually recorded a hit cover of the
song way back in 1998? The Wallflowers… gettit?