There’s a line in The Perks Of Being A Wallflower. Patrick (Ezra Miller) says of his stepsister and friend, Sam (Emma Watson), “I keep telling her, ‘Don’t make yourself small’.” Perks, the second feature from writer/director Stephen Chbosky (based on his novel of the same name) is a film about all the ways we make ourselves small when we’re wounded and reeling from unbearable loss. And it’s about the people who ferry us safe to the other side.
Charlie (Logan Lerman), enters high school hoping not to be known as that kid who spent time in the hospital. He’s hoping to just make friends. After a bumpy start, he does, when he takes up with a group of misfit kids who love hard and feel deep. At the epicenter of this group are Patrick and Sam, who throw themselves at life — and the project of building-family with their film group — in ways bewitching to watch. When Sam tells Patrick she thinks Charlie has no friends, Patrick walks right into the next room, drink in hand, and raises a toast to Charlie, “our new friend. You see things, and you understand.” “You’re a wallflower,” he tells him, inducting him into their circle of friends. All around the room, kids raise their cups. It’s a moving gesture of the sort we generally leave behind when the earnestness of youth is done. It is breathtaking to watch.
Charlie finds family on this “island of misfit toys” and, through these relationships, unearths dark, suppressed memories that have warped his life since he was a young boy. Perksis many things. It’s a coming of age story, chock full of adolescent experiences — the school dances, the clumsy, or missed, opportunities for love, the teasing for being too studious or too gay, but it’s a coming of age story about teens fielding adult-sized problems, which Perks relevant for those of us who have long since come of age. The plot unfolds in undulating waves of information and emotion. Truths are revealed to be falsehoods. Wrong turns turn out to set things right. And people who’ve been both hobbled and elevated by their traumas and mistakes take the first hopeful steps, out of their childhoods, and into the world. Early on, Charlie says of his favorite Aunt, that she had things done to her and she got her life together. It’s meant to give them hope as they grappel with their own wounds. He turns out to be wrong about his Aunt. She didn’t transcend her past. But these kids might.
On a return visit home, after two months away at college, Sam reports back to Charlie with wonder in her voice, that there’s another world out there. And so there is.
The Perks Of Being A Wallflower opened in limited release on September 28th. It opened wider this past weekend. With standout performances from Lerman, Watson and Miller, it’s one of the best films of the year, a coming of age story for anyone who believes in the possibility of transcending the past.