The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Charlie is a high school freshman.
Now, that's a pretty big deal for a lot of kids. But for Charlie? It's mammoth. And not in a big, exciting, good way. Ever since his best friend, Michael, committed suicide, Charlie's been sliding sideways. He's been through psychiatric care, prescribed medications, the whole gamut. Over summer break, he's never even ventured out of his house or spoken with anyone but family members.
So high school freshman Charlie stands there in the packed school hallway—invisible to the world—counting the days 'til graduation. Just one thousand three hundred and eighty five.
Nobody talks to Charlie, of course. In fact, the only person besides a teacher to say anything to him all day is a girl sitting next to him in English class. And her welcoming words are, "Nice trapper-keeper, f-ggot!"
Just one thousand three hundred eighty four days left.
Fortunately for Charlie, he doesn't have to wait quite that long for some relief. It comes in the form of quirky outcast Patrick … who introduces Charlie to his good-looking stepsister Sam.
After the metaphorical angels stop singing, he starts breathing again and forces himself to stop staring. And things begin taking a real turn. Sam and Patrick are both seniors, but they still talk to him for some reason. They actually seem to like him. They even take him to a party, introduce him to their friends … and get him stoned.
Charlie does stop counting the days 'til graduation. He stops worrying about how he'll survive. He pushes away the dark memories, the ugly nagging things from the past that whisper at his subconscious. He stops feeling so broken and lets himself relax a bit.
He goes too far and in the wrong directions at times, and we'll talk a whole lot more about that in a minute. But it's undeniable that Charlie can't stay in the place he's at when the curtain rises.
He has some emotional problems he struggles with, but underneath he's a sincere and earnestly loving kid. It's obvious, too, that his new friends really do care for him. And he, in turn, is devoted to them. Not to mention finding their friendship to be a healing balm for his soul. When large bullies start pounding on Patrick, the much smaller Charlie instantly flies to his friend's defense.
Clearly, Charlie's the kind of guy who puts everyone else's feelings and desires ahead of his own—even when that means he inadvertently gets hurt or misses out. Sam tells him, however, that always putting someone else first doesn't automatically equate to love.
Charlie and Sam are as close to soul mates as it gets. They think on the same level, like the same things and connect in some very healthy ways. But they both end up in disastrous dating relationships with other people. It's something they, and we, learn from. Sam asks Charlie, "Why do I, and everyone I know, pick people that treat us like nothing?" And it just so happens Charlie had asked his favorite teacher, Mr. Andersen, that very same question, so he responds with the teacher's answer: "We accept the people we think we deserve." Mr. Andersen encourages the boy in other ways, too, giving him books and spurring him to deeper thought.
Charlie receives his first kiss from Sam. Even though they aren't a couple, she tells him, "I just want to make sure that the first person who kisses you loves you." Charlie's mom and dad hug and comfort him at one low point. Charlie realizes, "We can't choose where we come from, but we can choose where we go from there."
Charlie and his family are Catholic, and we see them attend several holiday services that include a recital of the Lord's Prayer and the taking of communion. However, the film seems to want to emphasize that their faith has no real impact on them. For instance, Charlie's dad blesses their family dinner at one point "in the name of Jesus Christ," and then in the very next breath starts complaining about a "g-d‑‑ned" local sports team.
A girl states that she's a punk and a Buddhist. (One of her friends wonders privately why that makes her meaner.) Charlie wears a T-shirt that advertises the musical Jesus Christ Superstar.
Sex is a big part of the story here. And the movie makes sure we know such activities are an inevitable part of the high school experience. We see various couples kissing and fondling in party settings and the like, and it's implied through conversations about "shagging" and "hooking up" that most of the teens are sexually active. Sam indicates that she's been having sex with numerous guys since she was 11—when her dad's boss first kissed her. Patrick tells the story of a couple using a sandwich bag as a prophylactic.
Then add homosexuality to that young mix when Charlie catches Patrick making out with Brad, a football jock. And we eventually hear the full story of Patrick and Brad's relationship—from descriptions of drunken sex to threats of damnation issued by Brad's father. After that relationship collapses, Patrick laments not being able to find a good guy … and plants a kiss on Charlie. He kisses a girl at a party, calling out for all to watch the "f-g on goth" action.
We see Sam kiss her current boyfriend and Charlie. Charlie fondles the clothed breast of Mary Elizabeth, a girl in their group whom he's dating even though he doesn't really want to be with her. (In fact, he states that he's "tired of touching her boobs.")
Charlie's sister wears a skimpy bikini. We see Mary Elizabeth in her prom dress with the top pulled down to expose her bra. Sam wears several tops that hug her form or reveal cleavage. Teens sport outrageously revealing outfits when they dance around in a movie theater, acting along with a midnight showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Charlie, dressed in nothing but gold lamé mini shorts, squeezes Sam's breast while she's dressed in a bra and panties. Patrick flounces around in high heels, garter belts and a bustier.
At one point, Sam kisses Charlie and rubs his leg, which causes him to flash back to a time as a child when his adult aunt did the same thing to him. He soon remembers how she molested him.
We're told that when Brad's father caught Brad and Patrick having sex, he beat his son senseless. (We see the black and blue and puffy-eyed results.) Brad later spurs his football teammates to trip, torment and eventually start pounding on Patrick. Charlie comes running to Patrick's defense and momentarily blanks out. When he comes to, his knuckles are skinned and bruised, and the bullies are all on the ground with battered and bloodied faces. The boy then bellows at the attackers, "Touch my friends again and I'll blind you."
Charlie walks in on his sister getting viciously slapped by her boyfriend. (She begs him to leave and not tell anyone.) We see Charlie's aunt killed in a car crash—and Charlie worries that he wanted her to die. The setting and underscore make it clear that Charlie might pick up a nearby knife and hurt himself … just before help arrives.
Crude or Profane Language
One f-word. About 10 s-words. One or two uses each of "h‑‑‑," "a‑‑" and "b‑‑ch." God's and Jesus' names are misused on six or eight occasions (with God's getting combined with "d‑‑n" half the time). We hear "f-ggot" and "jack off."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Mary Elizabeth opens a bottle of her father's Merlot in preparation for a make-out session with Charlie. Teens drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes at several parties. Charlie gets stoned on the hash brownies that are passed around at one of them. He pops LSD at another, which sets him on a hallucinatory trip. After a number of swirling and blurred scenes, the teen ends up passing out on the snow-covered ground outside.
The movie's attitude is that these booze- and drug-filled parties are just another joyous part of the rite of passage for teens at large. In fact, the only negative associations with the buzzfests is one joking comment about a guy being a "hapless stoner." Oh, and a mention that a girl got in trouble for watering down her dad's brandy.
Charlie takes prescription drugs.
Other Negative Elements
The movie welcomes a mom and dad's embrace when someone is hurting, but contradictorily sneers the rest of the time at just how blind and foolish parents really are.
Sam reports that she's a "bulimist." "I love bulimia," she gushes.
Two girls laugh at Patrick, who responds with, "Suck it, virginity pledges, suck it!"
While speeding along a highway at night, Sam "vehicle surfs" in the back of Patrick's truck. Charlie later follows suit as a way of showing his "growth" and sense of freedom.
One of the girls is cheered on for perpetually stealing jeans at the mall.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a ribald romance movie, a caustic coming-of-age tale, a pic about quirky friendship and teen rebellion, a progressive message of gay acceptance, and a serious story of mental illness and child abuse. Indeed, director/screenwriter/author Stephen Chbosky seems to try to capture every nuance of his popular young adult novel in 103 minutes of screen time. But what he ends up with is a convoluted, rambling string of social misstatements and twisted youth culture mantras rather than an involving dramatic tale.
There are positive messages here about the value of a great teacher and the healing grace of a supportive friendship. But they're wrapped up in moral contradictions and weak-kneed worldviews that we're supposed to think of merely as, well, wallflowers.
They're not. They're weeds, maybe. But they're nothing close to flowers.
For instance, the movie rightfully rails against the sexual abuse of children, but generally smiles when those same kids become teens and abuse themselves through booze, hard drugs and casual sex. In other words, sexual contact at 11 is damaging but drunken straight or gay sex at 17 has no consequence.
Find the perk in that.
Somewhere deep in this cinematic bag of cats are some likeable characters and the seeds of an emotional story. But reaching in past all the claws to find them is a no-win-lose-your-skin proposition.