There I was, doing the usual after-dinner routine – sitting on my backside, channel surfing. As I surfed I came upon this movie where Emma Watson [Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter movies] was talking…like an American! This immediately grabbed my interest, the surfing stopped, and I watched what was left of the movie. What I saw was pretty good, so I had the DVR record it so I could see the whole thing. What I saw was a young adult, coming-of-age movie that was atypical of the genre. The following is a synopsis of the plot – not a review of the movie.
Instead of what one would expect from a John Hughes-type movie that played for laughs, this movie goes to some pretty dark places. The Perks of Being a Wallflower was directed by Stephen Chbosky, who also wrote the novel upon which this movie is based. Filmed on location in Pittsburgh, the film centers on three high school kids – Charlie [Logan Lerman, the Percy Jackson guy]; Patrick [Ezra Miller]; and Sam [Emma Watson].
The movie starts as Charlie is writing to an anonymous friend [“Dear Friend”]. He tells his “friend” that he is about to start high school.
“Dear Friend – I am writing to you because she said you listen and understand and didn’t try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have. Please don’t try to figure out who I am – I don’t want you to do that. I just need to know that people like you exist. Like if you met me you wouldn’t think I was the weird kid who spent time in the hospital – and I wouldn’t make you nervous. I hope it’s ok for me to think that. You see, I really haven’t talked to anyone outside of my family all summer. But tomorrow is my first day of high school ever and I need to turn things around. So I have a plan. As I enter the school for the first time, I will visualize what it will be like on the last day of my senior year. Unfortunately I counted and that’s 1,385 days from now…”
So right away we know that something is amiss with Charlie. Something happened to him in junior high, but we don’t know what it is [we find out what it is as the movie unfolds]. He was hoping his older sister Candace would let him eat lunch with her Earth Club – that didn’t happen [sorry, seniors only]. Then there’s his old friend Susan from junior high. She was fun to be around then but know doesn’t want to talk to Charlie now. There’s Brad Hayes – he’s the quarterback on the football team. Charlie’s older brother played with him before he went off to Penn State. But Brad is a senior, and Charlie is Charlie. Charlie ends up eating his lunches alone. His day brightens when he goes to freshman shop class. There’s a senior named Patrick – he’s had to take shop every year because he’s no good at it. But instead of making fun of the freshmen, Patrick makes fun of the shop teacher, who refers to him as “Patticakes.” Patrick insists the teacher either call him Patrick or nothing. So, the teacher calls him “Nothing.” For the rest of the movie, people address him as Nothing, much to Patrick’s annoyance.
Charlie is bound and determined to come out of his shell and participate in life. He ends up going to a football game by himself. While sitting by himself for a while, he goes and says “hi” Patrick [who thanks him for not calling him Nothing], and Patrick invites Charlie to join him. Sam joins them and Patrick introduces the two. They go to a place called Kings after the game. Sam and Charlie talk about music. Then she asks what Charlie wants to do, to which he says he wants to write, but doesn’t have anything to write about. Sam suggests he write about Sam and Patrick, whom Patrick dubs “the Slut and the Falcon.” Charlie comments that Sam and Patrick are very happy together and asks them how long they’ve been boyfriend and girlfriend. Both Sam and Patrick laugh and she tells Charlie they are step-brother and sister. She then announces that she is not a bulimic, but a “bulemist.” She won’t be bulimic, she’s just in favor of it [weird]. After they take him home, he witnesses an argument between his sister and her boyfriend “pony-tail Derek,” who hits Candance. Then Charlie starts to have flashbacks to when he was seven years old – when his Aunt Helen was still alive. Candance walks into the house after having kissed Derek. He’s worried about his sister, and that he might end up like Aunt Helen, whose boyfriends used to beat her.
Then there is the homecoming dance. Charlie goes by himself and watches what happens at the party from the corner. He’s watching everybody dance until the Dexy’s Midnight Runners song Come On Eileen comes on. Sam and Patrick hear it and take over the dance floor with their “living room routine.” After a couple of minutes of watching Sam and Patrick go crazy on the dance floor Charlie gets up enough courage to join them. I think this is the moment Charlie falls for Sam. Before the song ends, the scene cuts to the three of them going to an after-dance party. So they walk into the party to the strains of a Cracker song, when Patrick tells Charlie “this…is a party. This is what fun looks like. Are you ready to meet some desperate women?” Here Charlie meets Mary Elizabeth [a Buddhist and a punk] and Alice, whose parents are rich but she shoplifts blue jeans. She wants to get into NYU Film School. Before Charlie knows it, he has a reefer brownie. It was his first. Then the THC kicked in…
Mary Elizabeth: Charlie, what do you think about high school?
Charlie: High school? Bullshit. The cafeteria is called the nutrition center, people wear their letter jackets even when it’s 90 degrees out, and why do they give out letter jackets to Marching Band? It’s not a sport. We all know it. Mary Elizabeth, I think you’re really gonna regret that [buzz] haircut when you look back at old photographs. I’m really sorry…that sounded like a complement in my head…
Sam: Bob, did you get him stoned?
Bob: C’mon Sam, he likes it. Just look at him…
Sam: How do you feel, Charlie?
Charlie: I just really want a milkshake…
Sam takes Charlie to the kitchen and makes him a milkshake.
Charlie: Sam, you have such pretty brown eyes. The kind of pretty that deserves to make a big deal about itself, you know what I mean?
Sam: Ok, Charlie, let me make the milkshake.
Charlie: Hmmm, what a great word, “milkshake.” It’s like when you say your name over and over again in the mirror and after awhile it sounds crazy…
Sam: So I’m guessing you’ve never been high before…
Charlie: No, no no no…my best friend Michael, his dad was a big drinker so he hated all that stuff. Parties, too.
Sam: Where is Michael tonight?
Charlie: Oh, he shot himself last May. Kinda wished he left a note, you know what I mean? Where’s the bathroom?
Sam: It’s up the stairs.
Charlie: Thanks Sam. You’re so nice…
After Charlie uses the bathroom, he walks around upstairs and accidently enters a bedroom, where he finds Patrick and Brad kissing. Oops…
Patrick: Listen, Brad doesn’t want anybody to know. Are you baked?
Charlie: Like a cake. That’s what Bob said…
Patrick: Charlie, listen, I need you to promise that you’re not going to say anything to anyone about me and Brad. Ok? This has to be our little secret.
Charlie: Our little secret – agreed.
Patrick: Ok, thank you. We’ll talk later…
Later in the kitchen…
Sam: Charlie just told me that his best friend shot himself. I don’t think he has any friends.
Patrick: [sighs] Hey everyone! Everybody! Everyone, raise your glasses to Charlie.
Charlie: What did I do?
Patrick: You didn’t do anything. We just want to toast our new friend. You see things and you understand. You’re a wallflower….What is it? What’s wrong?
Charlie: I didn’t think anyone noticed me.
Patrick: Well, we didn’t think there was anyone cool left to meet. So go on, everyone…to Charlie.
Everyone: To Charlie!
Sam: Welcome to the Island of Misfit Toys.
This group of seniors took a freshman under their wing.
Neil Young once wrote in song "I fell in love with the actress, she was playing a part that I could understand." So the moment in the film after Sam says "welcome to the island of misfit toys," I got a tad misty-eyed. High school is full of misfits because it's also full of cliques. There are the jocks, the cheerleaders, the 'thespian' types, the choir people, the band people, all of whom would be right at home in Bruce Springsteen's Glory Days. On the other hand you have the 'grits' - the people who get into fights if you look at them the wrong way, the kids you see in the smoking area, the tough guys you know who had their first beer before they were teenagers, and in some cases they had fathers who beat the shit out of them just because they could. And somewhere in amongst all of these groups of people are those that just don't quite fit in anywhere. They know people from every side, yet they don't belong to any of them. They just do their own thing. They’re the people that go to parties, hide in the corner and watch other people. That was me in high school [and college too, for that matter], and that's Sam, Patrick, Mary Elizabeth, Alice, and Charlie, too. So when Sam made the crack about 'misfit toys,' I was hooked – I understood. I fell in love with these characters because they were playing parts that I could understand all too well. I knew those people…
On their way home from the party, a song comes on the radio. Sam is mesmerized by it. She doesn’t know it, and neither does Patrick or Charlie. Sam insists to Patrick that they have to drive through the Fort Pitt tunnel. Once they get to the tunnel she crawls out of the pickup cab and into the bed, stands up and acts as if she’s flying through the tunnel. What was that song anyway? Charlie looks at Sam, then looks at Patrick and tells him he feels “infinite.”
Things start to look up for Charlie. He no longer eats lunch by himself. He and his new friends help Mary Elizabeth edit her magazine about music and the Rocky Horror Picture Show. He makes music mix tapes for Sam, and she does the same for him. They not only go see the Rocky Horror Picture Show, they act it out live. After one such performance there’s a party afterwards. The talk was about SAT scores. Sam got her scores but they weren’t good enough for Penn State. She said that she should have studied more during her freshman year - that it was “a bit of a mess.” Charlie tells her she can take it again and that he’ll help her study. Then he hands her a mix tape. He tells her it’s all about that “night in the tunnel.” She’s impressed by his taste in music.
Then it was Christmastime. Charlie’s new friends have a “Secret Santa” tradition. Charlie played along but then one-upped everyone. He gave something to everybody. He gave Sam the a 45 record – The Beatles’ Something - and a card. I don’t know what he wrote in the card but whatever it was it made her speechless. When that was all finished she took Charlie to her room to give him a present for helping her with her SAT studies – a typewriter. Sam asked Charlie if he ever kissed a girl. He hadn’t, and he asked Sam the same question. She said her first kiss came when she was 11, and it was from her father’s boss. Earlier in the movie we found out that when Sam was a freshman the upperclassmen used to get her drunk at parties. She said she used to sleep with guys who treated her like shit, and got wasted at parties. She had a “reputation,” but Charlie didn’t care. He didn’t want anybody to care about his own emotional baggage, so he wasn’t going to judge Sam for hers. After she tells Charlie that she’s with a college guy named Craig, she tells Charlie that his first kiss ought to come from someone who loves him, and then she kisses him and tells him that she loves him. He loves Sam, but Craig had already beaten him to the punch [so to speak…].
On Christmas Eve [Charlie’s birthday], Charlie’s big brother Chris comes home. After Charlie blows out the candles on his birthday cake, he has a flashback about his Aunt Helen. It was about the last time he saw her alive. They were looking at luminaries, which Helen said was a landing strip for Santa. Then she said she was going to get his birthday present. Then the scene cut to his brother eating dinner. They have a talk. Chris asks Charlie how he’s feeling, especially it being Christmas Eve, the day Aunt Helen died. Charlie said he’s not seeing things, but when he does he can just shut it off. Charlie tells Chris about Sam and that he’s going to ask her out for New Year’s Eve. Then the whole family goes to Midnight Mass. In a clever piece of editing, Charlie is about to get a Communion wafer, but the film cuts to him getting a LSD tab on his tongue instead. We’re transported to a New Year’s Eve Party. Everybody is there, including Craig. So he decides to go shovel snow off the driveway, but he only manages a small circle. He told Sam about a tree that turned into a dragon, and then back to a tree again. He also tells her he’s glad she’s happy with Craig, but we know better. Right after the stroke of midnight, Charlie leaves the party. On his way home he lays down in the snow. He has another flashback of Helen. She got in her car and left. She never came back. Charlie and his siblings were waiting for her return, dressed all nice and at the top of the stairs. Instead of her walking through the door, there was a policeman there to tell the family about Helen dying in a car accident. Charlie wasn’t having a good day…
One time Craig didn’t show up to play Rocky so Mary Elizabeth drafted Charlie to play the part instead. She liked what she saw and asked Charlie out for the Sadie Hawkins Dance. After the dance Mary Elizabeth and Charlie went back to her place. Before he knew it, she proclaimed him as her boyfriend. But Charlie quickly got annoyed with her. She called him all the time and did all the talking. She always criticized the books that he read. Then one night they all got together to play Truth or Dare. Patrick dared Charlie to kiss the prettiest girl in the room. Instead of kissing Mary Elizabeth, he kissed Sam. Mary Elizabeth runs off, and Sam asks him “what’s wrong with you!” Patrick advises Charlie to stay away from them for a while. Once again Charlie is eating lunches by himself.
Charlie has more flashbacks about his Aunt Helen. His birthday is on Christmas Eve. On that night, she was on her way to pick up a birthday present for Charlie - the Something 45 record. In his mind’s eye, Charlie sees the accident that killed his aunt.
Things start to change. Brad’s dad caught him with Patrick and he beat the crap out of Brad. Later in the cafeteria, one of Brad’s football buddies trips Patrick. Brad calls him a faggot. Patrick punches Brad, but then he’s jumped by Brad’s teammates who hold his arms back while another one beats the crap out of him. Charlie takes action, but he blacks out. When he comes around, all is quiet. The jocks are all sprawled on the floor, and Charlie has bruised knuckles. Charlie picks Patrick off the floor, and tells the jocks “touch my friends again and I’ll blind you.” The scene cuts to the principal’s office, where Charlie waits outside and Brad is inside. Brad comes out and says “Charlie, thanks for stopping them.” Charlie still has no idea what he did until he found Sam outside. He asks her what he did and she tells him “you saved my brother – that’s what you did.”
Charlie: So you’re not scared of me?
Charlie: Can we be friends again?
Sam: Of course. C’mon – let’s go be psychos together.
Patrick and Charlie go to this park overlooking Pittsburgh. “Oh my God! My life is officially an After School Special. Son of a bitch!” So says Patrick… The two swap stories about “suburban legends.” When it’s Patrick’s turn again, he tells Charlie the following –
“There’s this one guy – queer as a $3 bill. The guy’s father doesn’t know about his son. So he comes into the basement one night when he’s supposed to be out of town. Catches his son with another boy. So he starts beating him, but not like the ‘slap’ kind, the ‘real’ kind. And the boyfriend says ‘Stop – you’re killing him!’ But the son just yells ‘Get Out!’ And eventually, the boyfriend just…did.”
Patrick talks about things being easier, that he may meet the love of his life, that he just needs to meet a ‘good guy.’ Then he leaned over and kissed Charlie. After he realized what he did, he cried on Charlie’s shoulder and apologized. Charlie understood and reassured Patrick that ‘it’s all right.’ Charlie spent a lot of time with Patrick. Patrick needed the company after what happened between him and Brad. I thought it was a strange role reversal for Charlie, where he was the therapist and Patrick was the patient. The two friends bonded.
Sam got her acceptance letter to Penn State. Alice got into NYU Film School. Patrick said he was going to the University of Washington so he could be near the cool music scene in Seattle. And he pulled a neat senior prank. He painted all of the shop teacher’s tools pink. Charlie was excited for his senior friends. He just wished that it was happening for him too. Ever since he blacked out in the cafeteria, “it” has been getting worse, and he can’t turn “it” off.
The night before Sam leaves for the summer session at Penn State, there’s a party. Everybody in the group gives Sam a present. Charlie’s present included some of the many books he’s read over the past year. There’s one more thing – that 45 he got from his Aunt Helen. Sam had broken up with Craig because he cheated on her. She talked with Charlie about her break-up and asked Charlie “why do I and everyone I love pick people who treat us like we’re nothing?” Charlie told her something he’d learned from his English teacher – “we accept the love we think we deserve.” Sam asked Charlie why he never asked her out. He said he didn’t think that was what she wanted. She scolded him to put such foolishness out of his head. They start to kiss, and as Sam puts her hand on Charlie’s thigh, he pulls back. She asks him what’s wrong, he tells her ‘nothing.’ They start kissing again, then the scene cuts to the next morning, the day Sam leaves for Penn State.
After they say goodbye and she drives off, he has two flashbacks to the night before. Then he starts to walk home. While he’s walking, we see one Charlie, then two, then three. He’s coming apart. Then there are more flashbacks. The next flashback is to his Aunt Helen rubbing his thigh. She tells him not to wake his sister. Then there’s another one of Aunt Helen telling him “it’ll be our little secret, ok?” Then again he visualizes Helen getting killed in the car crash. He blames himself for his aunt’s death. He has flashbacks about Pony Tail Derek hitting Candance, and of the fight in the cafeteria. And of the night the police came to their house when he was 7 to tell them about Helen getting killed. By the time he gets home, he bangs his head on the front door, he goes upstairs and starts to cry. He keeps telling himself not to cry, but he can’t help himself. Then he calls Candace, who is at a friend’s house. Sam and Patrick have left and there’s something he can’t stop thinking about. “I killed Aunt Helen, didn’t I? She died getting my birthday present so I killed her, right? I tried to stop thinking that but I can’t…What if I wanted her to die, Candace?” Candace tells her friend to call the police and for them to go to her house before Charlie harms himself. Charlie has another flashback of Helen. They’re in the kitchen, he takes her hand and sees the scars from where she’s slashed her wrists before. Back to the present he sees a knife, but before he can do anything with it, the police break down the door. The next thing we know Charlie is in a hospital room. His psychiatrist comes in and starts to ask some questions. Charlie wants to know how he can stop sensing the pain of other people. The doctor gets to the heart of the matter – Helen. What did he think of Helen? After the doctor told him he said some “things” about Helen while he was blacked out, she asked him what he thought of Helen. Charlie said she was “insane.” Then we finally get to the crux of what bothers Charlie – Aunt Helen molested him as a child. Between that, Helen getting killed on his birthday, and his best friend committing suicide the year before, no wonder Charlie is a basket case. But having made the breakthrough about Helen, Charlie is discharged from the hospital. He’s supposed to be in weekly therapy.
On his first night home from the hospital, Patrick and Sam stop by Charlie’s house. Patrick asks if Charlie can “come out to play.” While she was away at Penn State, Sam finally found out what “The Tunnel Song” was – David Bowie’s “Heroes.” Patrick, Sam and Charlie go for a drive. They go through the tunnel, but this time it’s Charlie who is flying. He leans down and kisses Sam through the window. All is well for now. As he felt the last time, he is “infinite.” And there the story ends.
What a damn fine movie this was…