When I told a friend I was going to see The Perks of Being a Wallflower, she said she thought it looked cute. Having read the book already, I had to laugh inwardly at her comment. Having seen the movie, I stand by that reaction. Cute is not the word I would choose to describe Stephen Chbosky’s coming-of-age story. That much I know. I do not know, however, which word I would choose to describe it.
Peculiar, perhaps, or surprising. Stirring, even. I find it hard to commit to just one adjective, because Perks is all of these things. The story centers around Charlie, a teen who has faced a number of challenges but is currently concerned only with enduring freshman year. Quite by accident, he finds himself befriended by a quirky group of seniors, each of whom has their own unique set of challenges. These challenges include bullying, abuse, depression, and almost everything in between. To some, such a spectrum of problems within one single social circle may seem excessive; to others, like myself, who in high school saw friends facing similar things every day, it feels right. Of course, I must admit a bit of a bias, based on my personal experiences and preferences, but I think that is one of the story’s strong suits: it’s easily relatable to a number of young people. In the end, Charlie makes some discoveries that are universal. He learns not only to watch and observe but to actively participate in his own life. He learns to accept the difficult and appreciate the good.
I found myself loving the film adaptation not only for its loyalty to Chbosky’s story but on its own terms, as a stand-alone movie. Chbosky himself wrote the screenplay, which ensured that the most important plot points and sentiments from the story are conveyed in the film. The movie even includes several direct quotes from the book. Besides that, though, the film in and of itself has many strengths. While it does take a little while to gather momentum, I was charmed from the start. Perks is a drama that avoids the mistake of taking itself too seriously. It lets the story speak for itself, adding what magic it can with a star-studded, talented cast (Emma Watson leaves Hermione far behind her), enchanting cinematography, and the perfect soundtrack. Perhaps the most powerful quality of the film is that it allows the audience to reflect its own meaning back onto it. The film provides its audience with a meaningful story and a mesmerizing product, but it allows viewers to draw their own conclusions. This, I believe, is evidence of masterful movie-making.
Because Perks does tackle some intense subject matter, it is not for the light-hearted or narrow-minded; it is not meant to be “cute.” But with that disclaimer comes my high recommendation. The film tastefully handles serious issues and could potentially act as an important talking point in the current conversation of young people and their (sometimes sorely misunderstood) problems.