Friday, September 28, 2012

Love: Perks of Being a Wallflower

It has been probably a little over a decade since I read Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  Which means it's probably about a decade since everyone's dog-earred copies started showing up conspicuously during passing periods and lunches, and since everyone had an AIM away message quoting the moment our narrator felt "infinite."  I liked the book quite a bit at the time, but I never took it on as a full blown accoutrement to my teenage identity (that space was reserved for Fight Club, for some reason) the way some of my friends did.  Years passed, and I forgot huge sections of the plot and replaced them with general emotions. The things that stuck most are, I guess, the pieces that I could specifically relate to: outsider friends, Rocky Horror, mix tapes and awkward parties and moments of feeling separate from your own life story.  Still, there  was never any question as to whether or not I was going to see the movie. Of course I was. There are things we owe to our past selves, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower would be, I thought, like a visit from an old friend. A melancholy, emotionally manipulative old friend.
The story, for anyone who missed it, is centered around the painful coming of age of Charlie (Logan Lerman), a smart, sensitive freshman kid plagued by memories of a dead Aunt and a recently deceased best friend.  Somehow, Charlie befriends the loud-mouthed Patrick (Ezra Miller) and his complicated stepsister Sam (Emma Watson), and they invite him to join their merrily wounded band of willing outsiders. Perks is committed to the lonely realities of adolescence, and the film presents itself in earnest.  This is the new new sincerity, a place where indie-movie sentiments never read as ironic but become heartbreakingly honest.  Chbosky took the directing reins on his own material, and he's cast his story well.  Watson and Miller, in particular, are wonderfully unexpected, warm and broken in ways that force us to see them as Charlie does.  It reads like an indie from a decade ago, something that works in its favor as a strange dose of nostalgia for the book's first generation readers.  Which, I think, is why it hit me like a goddamn cartoon anvil.
If Perks of Being a Wallflower had existed as this film prior to my 19th birthday, I would have watched the shit out of it.  It would have usurped Igby Goes Down and every single one of my friends would have had a DVD copy tucked away on their bookshelf.  If it had existed prior to my 19th birthday, I would have watched this when I stayed home from school sick and probably cried to myself about how beautiful it was.  We would have run it at countless overnights, post-proms, and anti-TWIRPs (that's Sadie Hawkins, for those not in the know).  We would all have the soundtrack, and we would have made more mix CDs than we already did.  Everyone would have had Emma Watson and Mae Whitman's haircuts, and we would have an even stupider dance for songs like "Come on Eileen" (which, it should be noted, was played repeatedly on the passing period mix they piped through the high school halls).  I could go on. All of this is a good thing, generally. It means the film works. It resonates. But now I have a headache from all the things it dug up. It's lovely and painful and precocious and pretentious and sentimental and cruel and funny and real and if it had existed earlier I suspect it would have fundamentally altered the course of my high school career in ways that would have been seriously problematic.




I'm not sure whether my teenage self would have been insanely happy or extremely annoyed by the addition of David Bowie's "Heroes" at a crucial point here.  My teenage self loved that song to bits. My current self still does.  My teenage self, I think, would not have wanted this song spread about willy nilly to all her unworthy classmates because it would have defeated the purpose  One time my teenage self was listening to this song on her boombox when she looked outside and realized that the sky was gold and everything was saturated in color.  My teenage self was not on drugs, guys, but there was a weird ecstatic moment in relation to this song where my teenage self ran out of the house and down the block and everything was very quiet and very synchronized and it was like the beginning of Vanilla Sky and no one else existed on the planet and when I came back the song was still playing (or playing again?).  That was feeling infinite, and the use of the song here exploited my goddamn emotions and I felt all that emo kid shit and I was like "yes!" but at the same time "why are you doing this to me?"  And with that I conclude: feelings. Perks of Being a Wallflower is filled with feelings. It may not be flawless, but goddamn is it potent. 

3 comments:

  1. This one is on the top of my watch list. I haven't watched the trailer but I have read the book so I'm waiting for something magical since the man behind the film is also the author of the book. I don't know, it just seems important and relevant when it comes to teenage stories.
    Glad you loved it.. now I know that I will probably love it as well.

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    1. Yeah, I walked into the theater not knowing that Chbosky had also directed the film, so that was a pleasant surprise. I think this material definitely needed someone who was going to stay faithful to the story without trying to transform it too much one way or another...

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  2. Sensitive teens and their older kin who pine for the '90s may want to take it for a spin on the dance floor.

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