The Perks of Being a Wallflower Book/Movie Review

Learning to Participate

The Perks of Being a Wallflower Book/Movie Review

[Mild Spoilers]


Wallflower: a person who has no one to dance with or who feels shy, awkward, or excluded at a party. 

There is no doubt that every person who has experienced high school can relate to feeling like they don’t belong or fit in. Subconsciously, most of us change the way we act, the way we talk, or the way we dress, just because we want to be a part of something. But change is not always easy, nor is it always a positive thing. Insert the Perks of Being a Wallflower, an authentic coming-of-age movie that is a must watch for all teenagers. 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower was originally a novel published in 1999 by writer Stephen Chbosky. In 2012, the movie was released and was also directed by Chbosky. Because Chbosky created both renditions, the stories align so closely that they essentially can be referred to as one and the same. The story follows Charlie (played by Logan Lerman), an introverted freshman navigating through the highs and lows of high school with the help of a few friends he makes along the way. Up until he meets seniors Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller), Charlie has felt unnoticed and invisible, as if he was merely a spectator in his own life. Charlie is also recovering from some traumas from earlier in his life, something that prevents him from being able to express his emotions properly. But, with the help of Sam, Patrick, and his English teacher, Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd), Charlie begins to learn how to “participate.”

On Charlie’s first day of school, he voices how all he can think about is what it will be like on his last day. He avoids conversation and goes the entire day without speaking much to anyone until, as the bell rang ending the school day, Mr. Anderson stops Charlie and tells him, “You should learn to participate.” From that moment on, Charlie’s connection with his teacher grows, and he slowly begins to try and live more. 

His friends are crucial in Charlie’s journey to becoming more outspoken and alive. After befriending step-siblings Sam and Patrick at a football game, the two begin to bring him to parties, school events, and the Rocky Horror Picture Show, which the two star in. He’s welcomed warmly into their friend group despite being a freshman. Charlie doesn’t describe them as “popular kids,” which is one of the reasons he likes them so much, and because they aren’t trying to be popular they appreciate Charlie for his sincerity and timid kindness. They affectionately refer to him as a wallflower for the way he sits back and observes the people around him. 

Two particular scenes in the movie specifically convey Charlie’s efforts to participate. Firstly, soon after becoming friends with Sam and Patrick, Charlie stands alone at the homecoming dance. That’s until he notices the duo dancing sporadically in the middle of the dance floor and very nervously decides to join them. Sam and Patrick greet him elatedly, and Charlie dances with them cheerfully. It’s such a powerful scene that literally shows Charlie moving from his comfort zone toward participating in what would normally be an uncomfortable situation for him. In the second scene, the main actor for The Rocky Horror Picture Show didn’t show up and a quick replacement was needed; surprisingly, Charlie agreed. Despite having to strip to his underwear in front of a large audience and acting absurdly, he does the show and actually enjoys himself.

High school isn’t easy. In one way or another, there are social settings that make us feel unwanted and alone. Maybe it was at a homecoming dance, like Charlie, or in some other unique way. What makes this movie special is the fact that it doesn’t shy away from awkward moments or just having awkward characters. Far too often, movies and TV shows based around high schoolers are overglamourized and unrealistic. In Perks, Charlie is a very normal person; he looks and acts like a nervous freshman, and the bond between him, Sam and Patrick feels very genuine. It’s real. 

Chbosky continuously attacks the theme of what it means to participate. He encourages introverts to not necessarily step outside their comfort zone, but instead just live in the moment. A quote from the book, which tragically was not a part of the movie, states, “Sometimes people use thought to not participate in life.” All Charlie thought about on his first day was what his last would be like, but it wasn’t until he began participating and having those small memorable moments with his friends that he saw high school as more than just a march to the finish line, something I think many teenagers should learn. Appreciate it while it lasts.

Beyond the theme of participating in life, Perks also covers themes of friendship, love, tragedy, and family, all in an equally beautiful manner. It even covers more sensitive topics such as sexuality, depression, drugs, violent relationships, and sexual abuse. To cover each one would be nearly impossible, just because of how in-depth Chbosky analyzes the relationships between all the characters and what they experience together. The writing is beautiful, the acting is beautiful, and the filmmaking is beautiful as well. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a must-watch and a must-read.