Emma Watson and Logan Lerman in "The Perks of Being a Wallflower"
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Observe the white, middle-class American Catholic teenager in his natural habitat: the suburbs. This week, on Mutual of Omaha's "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," novelist Stephen Chbosky directs a revealing nature film based on his own semi-autobiographical book. Or, as the white, middle-class American Catholic teenager plaintively bleats, "My life is officially an 'After School Special.'"
Witness specimen Charlie (Logan Lerman) -- seen here entering, for the first time, the mating grounds of Mill Grove High School outside Pittsburgh in the early '90s -- little understanding the inexorable instinctual pull that will lead him to join a pack, gravitate to his cool English teacher, fall for an unavailable female of the species, make mix tapes, have late-night "deep thought" epiphanies like "I feel infinite," and participate in ancient teenage rituals involving drugs, alcohol and/or "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."
For nature is so often pitiless and cruel, one important reason for the proliferation in the wild of Morrissey songs. The young cub marked by the pack as a "high school freshman" struggles for acceptance. Under the best of circumstances, it is one of nature's most daunting and magnificent struggles, like the salmon swimming upstream. But poor Charlie is painfully shy, highly sensitive to the pain in everyone around him, and instinctively inclined to lick the wounds of earlier tangles with predators.
If only we could understand what he was thinking (if only, say, he would write letters that could serve as narrative commentary), perhaps we could more fully understand the impulses that make him so fragile. Yes, nature is cruel, but it also finds a way. Showing great courage, little Charlie tentatively moseys onto the dance floor, accessing from the collective unconscious the ancient rhythms of "Come on Eileen."
And thus, he is accepted by the impulsive seniors of the pack: attractive potential mate Sam (Emma Watson) and gay Patrick (Ezra Miller), the latter performing that rare and complex dance of flamboyance, deception, confusion, fear and desire like a junior Oscar Wilde who has unfortunately wandered into the hostile climes of Mill Grove. Sam has imprinted upon a "bad boy," but she recognizes a fellow survivor in the cub and, with Patrick, gives Charlie enough attention and purpose to survive.
See how Charlie nuzzles under the wings of the older teenagers; hear the cry of the female ("It gets better") and of the English teacher ("We accept the love we think we deserve"). Music takes on great importance and prominence in these years of development, and it is the soundtrack of so many slow mating dances, most of which are never consummated, until the teenager reaches maturity. Here, truly, is the best and worst of being young, the thrill of puberty and the agony of the feet.
One cannot blame our sentimental filmmaker or even you, gentle viewer, for seeing in these younglings something of ourselves. Though we have, perhaps, never flaunted the fetching eyelashes and perfect skin of these magnificent specimens, have we not, in a sense, been there? Have we not learned, the hard way, to participate in life, to accept ourselves and set aside shame and guilt? Perhaps we are not so different from these noble creatures after all.
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, drug and alcohol use, sexual content and a fight; all involving teens. 1 hour, 43 minutes.
- Peter Canavese