High school sucks.
At least for me it did. Those were probably the worst four years of my life, and, while I get that some people think it was the greatest time in their lives, I just don’t understand that mentality. It’s a time in your life where you have no idea who you are, what you’re doing, what you want, and even those who project that they have their shit together don’t. They’re just able to hide it behind a façade better than the rest of us. They have their own doubts, fears, concerns, worries… regardless of how cool or popular they are. That can’t chase away their true feelings and emotions. However, rather than take ownership of their lives and its state of uncertainty, they can put on the show in order to fit into the fabric of high school life, not rocking the boat at all, which might put them on the outskirts of the cliquish social ladder that comprises high school.
I wasn’t the cool kid in high school or the most popular. I ran track, which I eventually quit, because running isn’t very fun after awhile. I played in the band, because I loved making music. I had a handful of really good friends, and, while I don’t know that I’d call myself a social misfit, I was probably about as weird or awkward as anyone heading through high school still trying to figure out where they fit in the world. About the only thing I had going for me was my hot girlfriend who, for some reason, was really into me at the time… but even she wound up treating me like shit in the long run. Fuckin’ bitch (we’ve seen become friends after those wounds healed).
My point is high school is a terrible part of one’s adolescence yet unfortunately a very necessary one. Believe me… if I didn’t have to send my kids through it later in their lives, I wouldn’t, because it’s a horrible place that, over time, can break you. However, this is a time when you do really learn about yourself. You measure how strong you are. You make friends that may not stand the test of time, but at least for the moment, are there for you when you need them most, because they don’t have families of their own or full-time jobs or serious responsibilities that get in the way of that.
My own experiences in high school are a big part of my connection to Stephen Chbosky’s adaptation of his own novel THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER. Having not read the book beforehand, I had no connection to the material whatsoever, but, as Chbosky’s film quickly set up the emotional boundaries in which it would play, I found myself drawn further and further into this story about a freshman in high school who has endured more traumatic shit than anyone his age ever should really trying to find his place in the world, as he starts off with no friends, an initial belief that high school is far worse than middle school and the realization that he hasn’t talked to anyone outside of his family in the summer before he begins this level of learning. Charlie, played grippingly by Logan Lerman, is already counting down the days until the last day of his senior year, waiting to move onto something bigger and better than the awful pettiness that makes up high school life. He eats lunch by himself. He goes to the school’s football games by himself. His brother is off in college. His sister is engrossed in her own high school life. His best friend… well, he’s no longer around. He has no one, except an English teacher (a restrained Paul Rudd) who challenges him with books he hasn’t read yet.
However, that is all about to change when he finally gets up the courage to approach one of his classmates, a senior who appears on the fringe of the high school totem pole named Patrick (Ezra Miller as a less disturbing student). Patrick is more than happy to bring Charlie into his circle of friends, which includes a pixie-ish girl named Sam (Emma Watson, who more than holds her own dramatically post-HARRY POTTER) and a band of ROCKY HORROR fanatics. This new-found confidence in finding some new free-spirited friends allows Charlie to expand his horizons, to do things he hadn’t done before – attend a party, get high, have a girlfriend, kiss a girl – and it gives him a feeling of acceptance and, more specifically, or acknowledgement that he hasn’t felt in quite some time.
Outside their bizarre taste in music (Who really knows The Smiths, but can’t recognize Bowie?) which is a bit distracting, this trio of characters are compelling due to the insane amount of baggage each of them carries at this still very young age. As rebellious as they think they are, they still are very scared individuals dealing with very personal issues, whether it’s a sullied reputation or societal acceptance of their sexuality or deep-seeded psychological issues and depression, and through these prisms, we can watch Charlie, Sam and Patrick all try to create these identities for themselves as they try to find happiness for themselves but also amongst their close-knit group of friends.
Chbosky has really tapped into the mindset of teenagers, much like John Hughes did many years ago. These don’t feel like caricatures of today’s youths or really youths of any time. They feel like real people with real struggles and real questions about themselves and the world around them. They don’t understand their relationships or their feelings or their futures, and the volatility of this point in their lives doesn’t make it any easier.
Anyone who has ever attended a day of high school can identify with something in THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER. No matter what label you found yourself living out during those days of your teenage years, there’s something here that most likely represents what you were going through then. It is absolutely tough to look that in the face at times, and it does for an emotional introspection of what you may have gone through, but it is cathartic and rewarding to come out on the other side of PERKS knowing that someone somewhere at some time experienced something similar in trying to find their spot in the world, too. This is one powerful film.
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