“How was it?” the President of my former company asked me, as I was exiting the theater showing “The Perks Of Being A Wallflower.”
“The music was great,” I blurted out.
“No, really, it (the movie) was OK,” I stressed.
What can be said of this film? It recalls all kinds of firsts: first kiss, first sexual escapade, first drunk, first drug, first suicide attempt. Just kidding.
But there is a precariousness to it all. It’s definitely not a lighthearted romp.
If this were an actual ’80s teen movie in the Hughes tradition, a girl would’ve played the wallflower: sweet, sensitive, shy, and painfully awkward, making pithy observations about so-called life in the sidelines, at the low end of the social scale. And at some point, she would’ve been plucked from obscurity and given some sort of validation.
Here, it’s Charlie — not Brown — blending into the cheap cafeteria setup, or a shadowy gym. A messed up kid pining after the lovely, messed up girl with the boy’s name, whose equally lovely stepbrother also likes boys. The three misfits — Charlie, Sam, gay Patrick — become fast friends. However, making sense of their expanding world, sorting their baggage, and clearing out hidden pockets of self-loathing, takes a lot of doing.
My friend Stephie urged me to read “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” way back when. I never did. I don’t know why I didn’t. Maybe I’d read all the young adult fiction I wanted to at the time? Maybe because I felt in my gut something was up with the book.
I understand, from the bits that we were allowed to see in the movie, that the reader of the book would probably itch to have a marker to highlight all the quotable quotes.
That famous line: “We accept the love we think we deserve.”
The clever criticism: “I think it’s bad when the most honest way a boy can look at a girl is through a camera.”
The utter loneliness of being called a “freak” and admitting one is “trying not to be” and then retreating: “I turned around and walked to my room and closed my door and put my head under my pillow and let the quiet put things where they are supposed to be.”
Watching the adaptation, I was moved to laughter and sighs and occasional bursts of heckling — “This wallflower seems to get a lot of action” or, after one rather brutal episode of homophobic bullying, “Fuck you, shithead.” (When you meet the Brad character, you’ll know why.)
But I’m glad I don’t have to really review this film. I’m still mulling my reservations about it.
I guess Wallflower just doesn’t easily fall into a slot. Not your typical coming-of-age story. Not your typical teen romance. Not your typical tale of abuse and mental illness. It’s all that — crammed in with scenes of cross-dressing for the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and making snow angels while on a bad acid trip.
There’s all kinds of complicated in this story.
But I will not hesitate to say that Wallflower the film really does have good music in it. Cheers for the lost art of self-expression via the emotional repository of a mixed tape. And with that said, I think I’ll put on some Bowie (later covered by The Wallflowers). Or The Smiths.
(Or Joy Division/New Order, and the song that always makes me think of infinite youth, “Ceremony.” Hey, we’ve all got our own soundtracks.)