You know those quotes that make the rounds on your Facebook newsfeed every few months. The quotes that at first sound so deep and so prophetic and so life changing that you can’t help but copy and paste them onto your own profile.
“Yes!” you say to yourself, “I’ll sing like no one’s listening, I’ll love like I’ve never been hurt, I’ll dance like nobody’s watching and aw hell, I’ll live like it’s Heaven on Earth!” And then, after thinking about it for a few minutes, you realize that it’s a completely meaningless expression. What does it even mean to live like it’s Heaven on Earth? You play the harp all day while people dressed like angels dance around you?
That’s the gist of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It’s an incredibly melodramatic movie that attempts to cover every possible issue a teen could ever have, while simultaneously trying to spit out as many quotable lines as possible. I left the theater wondering if I just saw a movie or an audition tape for potential tumblr quotes. Each line started to sound more ridiculously empty than the next, but I just knew if someone typed it up and slapped it on an out of focus background, it would be reblogged again and again and again.
And that’s why teenagers will love this movie. It’s made for them. No issue goes untouched. In 103 minutes they cover drugs, loneliness, suicide, incest, homophobia, alcohol, mental illness, love, sex, virginity, domestic abuse, out-of-touch parents, popularity, friendship, betrayal, step-families and college admissions. It’s essentially cliff-notes for a high school guidance counselor looking for issues to talk about with her students.
On one hand, that’s life. It’s fair to say that a teenager will deal with all these issues throughout their high school years. On the other hand, it isn’t fair to cram them all into one movie and lightly breeze over so many of them. By the time the movie climaxes, I’m so overwhelmed by how much is happening, and somehow not happening, that I didn’t feel the full impact of the surprising confession. A confession that partially explains so much of the plot, yet seems so tacked on and not fully explored by the end.
But I suppose that’s what being in high school is all about. No issue, no matter how serious or devastating or important, ever seems bigger than your own life. Your problems will always seem worse than everyone else’s problems. Your failing grade’s equivalent to your friend’s parents getting divorced. Every moment can quickly redefine the best moment of your life as well as the worst. So in that sense, The Perks of Being a Wallflower perfectly captures that attitude. That feeling that your teenage years are a jumble of issues and no one’s allowed to tell you that your problems don’t matter — that they’re insignificant or unworthy of being discussed.
So while I felt like they spent too much time focusing on party story lines and not enough on the abuse story lines (ie. a scene involving Charlie getting a milkshake while high probably lasts longer than his confrontation with his sister over her abusive boyfriend), I guess that’s the point. Maybe. I just spent way too long looking up qoutes on tumblr and I suddenly feel the need to say something incredibly poetic.
On the third hand (did you forget which hand we were on?), I thought the actors — Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller, Mae Whitman — did a terrific job navigating the story and jumping from one big moment to the next. They’re a talented group of young actors who will clearly go on to star in more films. I bought their each of their stories, hook, line and sinker. Even Emma Watson — who I never thought I would see as anyone but Herminone. But two minutes into the film I forgot she ever possessed magical powers and I fully believed her to be a regular American high school student.
An incredibly stupid one at that. Who stands up in the back of a pick-up truck when you’re driving on a highway? The scene’s supposed to be so full of meaning and deepness and probably even metaphor, but all I could think the whole time was “sit down, you’re going to kill yourself!”
But I suppose that just makes me old. I’m not a kid anymore. 10 years ago I probably would have totally gotten that scene. I would know exactly what it meant and I would have analyzed it with my friends for hours.