The Perks of Being A Wallflower is a wonderful movie. I'm not just saying that because it has Emma Watson in it either, though she is amazing in it. I'm saying it because it is a genuinely good bildungsroman about high-school and growing up and all that complicated shit that occupies life. I went in expecting something comparative to The Dreamers, about a kid who meets up with two eccentric people older than him and learns to live life with them, but I got something different, something I hate to say better but definitely different.
The film is a traditional teen movie in that it does not have a plot, and takes place over the period of about a year, just showing normal life with theoretically 'normal' people. In all honestly it doesn't differ too much from the standard formula, though it has some deeper relationships than most of the crap out there. It is also a dark movie. It's not dark throughout, and there are many moments of comedy and just enjoying life but they often transition, rather abruptly, into moments of very serious discussion, like rape, abuse, and suicide. These are issues that pervade life but are often not talked about, but with an anthology of a year like this and many other films they can be brought up and discussed.
The film follows what seems to be a normal freshman boy, though he is significantly older than his peers because he was held back several years. He is bullied because he likes reading I guess, and often ends up alone in the lunchroom reading his books. To me it seems, not unbelievable, but a little cliche to have someone like this in this day and age; however the film is set in the early 90's, when it was more of the style. I guess it works okay, and doesn't last too long, but the establishing bits don't need to be quite so long.
Anyway we are introduced to the garish and flamboyant Patrick fairly early, who is also mocked and insulted, repeatably called Nothing by others at his school because of what a teacher said on the first day. He is the stepbrother of Sam, played by Emma Watson. Sam used to be a bit of a whore as she admits, though not in those words. She would have sex with people just because she could, and frequently abused her sexuality to get what she wanted. Unlike most films in Wallflower she is a protagonist, not necessarily giving up her life but trying to do something a little different.
The main play of the film is the dynamic between our shy, innocent, loner main character and these extroverts who like to shout out to the world who they are. At one point this is almost literal, as Sam stands atop a moving truck and shows herself to the world, awash in music and magic. Patrick slowly becomes closer to this, becoming indoctrinated to their way of life, even playing Rocky at one of the Rocky Horror Picture Show productions, as opposed to his earlier awkwardness watching the show.
This is not a new story, nor is it told in a particularly unique way but there is something that just grabs me personally about it. It reminds me more of Donnie Darko than anything else, though the delusions of the main character are much more grounded in reality, seeing flashbacks of his Aunt who was killed in a car crash and was later revealed to have molested him putting her actions and his love for her in an entirely different light. It might be these moments of light and dark that permeate all of the film that make it something more than the sum of its components, with all the shit, good and bad, that happens in life all lumped together and thrown at the audience.
Overall the film manages to stay true to its audience while showing that bad things happen, and when they do the only real thing to do is to get up and keep going. In one tragic scene at the end the protagonist, one could possibly call him eponymous, tries to commit suicide as all of his friends are going off to college and he will be left alone at high-school, counting down the days until he can go off and do something on his own. This is similar to many people's experiences with it, though magnified as films tend to do, because there is nothing more human than people, and their actions and beliefs and sheer presence is often enough to make all the difference, as shown by a wonderful scene at the end where he finally rides free in the truck like Sam, finally in the world of Do-What-You-Will, and no longer a wallflower, but infinite. That metaphor never really goes anywhere but the point stands, he transforms.