The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the period drama of the early 2010s
Overused plot and mediocre characters still inspire some nostalgia for adolescence
Picture the most stereotypical teenager who was really into Tumblr in 2012. They listened to “underground music” on cheap record players; they read Catcher in the Rye and suddenly it became their entire personality; they had this weird fascination with non-conformity. Okay, now extrapolate that into an entire movie, and the result is The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Recently added to Netflix, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a blast from the past that inspires odd nostalgia, despite being objectively cringe-worthy.
The film follows high school freshman Charlie as he navigates his newfound friendships. Charlie is, frankly, a terrible character. He’s extremely milquetoast. His character is written to be some wise, mentally ill sweetheart. Really, his only character trait is that he’s literate and likes to make mix tapes. While his character is supposed to be innocent and kind, he does some pretty crappy stuff, like cheating on his girlfriend in front of her and then subtly blaming it on his mental illness.
Honestly, none of the characters have much depth. Most are just really stereotypical. Sam, played by Emma Watson, is a modern manic pixie dream girl. She dates horrible men who treat her poorly, and she thinks she’s “different” because she listens to The Smiths. Mary Elizabeth is similar, though ten times more obnoxious (she talks a lot about veganism and foreign films). Then there’s the English teacher, played by Paul Rudd (wait, what?), who says the famous line: “We accept the love we think we deserve.” Okay, Paul, way to boil down the mechanisms of trauma.
Arguably, the most nuanced and interesting character is Patrick, played by heartthrob Ezra Miller. Throughout the film, Patrick explores his sexuality as a gay man and has a secret love affair with football player Brad. Patrick is disillusioned with high school life, like everyone else, but the pain he feels after Brad dumps him is much more realistic. His mania is portrayed beautifully, and he’s the only character with some semblance of growth.
The plot itself is pretty lackluster: boy meets girl, falls in love, but she has a boyfriend, who eventually leaves her. Girl loves boy, girl goes to college, and things are kind of sad but in a beautiful way. The movie does touch on some pretty important topics, including sexual abuse and suicidality, though the portrayal of mental illness is hackneyed and a little too romantic.
The soundtrack is pretty stellar, including songs from David Bowie and Sonic Youth, though neither of those artists are really as “underground” as the characters believe.
Watching The Perks of Being a Wallflower as an adult inspires an odd nostalgia for something that probably never happened. Most probably didn’t have such quintessential perfect high school friendships like these. The movie is so stupidly picture perfect: a perfect first kiss, perfect friendships, a “tragically beautiful” romantic struggle with mental illness that doesn’t include any of the actual symptoms. It’s ridiculous. But damn, riding through a tunnel and listening to David Bowie does sound nice.