Last night, I joined my lovely friend Liz to see The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
I distinctly remember the book from high school. Not because I had read it but because my two friends Hillary and Ashley had routinely passed it back and forth obsessively. I never picked it up myself partly because their enthusiasm had seemed to brand it permanently with a “girl book” label in my head and, mostly, because the fact that the words “MTV Books” could be found on the cover marked it, to me, as instantly untrustworthy and potentially pandering. What can I say, I was a shallow, shallow adolescent.
I missed out on the Perks phenomenon that, apparently, consumed so much of my generation. Tom Perrotta’s Election and Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides (as well as their film adaptations) were my Catcher in the Rye surrogates (I also read Catcher, of course, but, weirdly, neither loved it or hated it which, it seems, are the only reactions people are permitted to have).
I was curious to see the Perks movie though. It’s gotten good reviews, I liked that the author had both written and directed his own adaptation, and Liz’s tremendous excitement was contagious. Like the girls from my high school, she had read the book many, many times and warned me going in that she fully planned on sobbing throughout.
I’d like to write a review type thing as I’ve done with a bunch of the movies I’ve seen lately (Side note: does anyone actually read these long things when I write them? I’m guessing no. Feel free to reply with a “yes” if you’ve made it to this point), but I really don’t have that much to say.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower was…fine?
Probably a little better than that. I actually enjoyed it more than Liz whose decade-long anticipation-building seemed to be too much for her viewing. But, I just couldn’t get swept up in the teenage angst the way the movie’s intended audience probably will. I mean…if a teenager ever said to me “I feel infinite” and he wasn’t on drugs, I’d find it hard not to start laughing.
But here are some small things that did hold my attention while the overall story did not.
- Apparently music and mix tapes are a huge component of the book and the movie’s soundtrack did it justice. Kudos, music supervisor. It’s unsurprising your name is one of the first listed in the credits.
- That being said, it’s pretty insane to think that just 19 years ago, hip teenagers would spend an entire year being unable to discover that that super cool song they heard once was by that obscure singer…David Bowie. I know the whole no Internet thing (I’m old enough to have at least some experience going from record store to record store looking for someone who knows who sings a certain song) is a big component of this, but was that really the song they originally intended to use in those scenes?
- Emma Watson is very, very pretty. Emma Watson wearing Susan Sarandon’s lingerie from Rocky Horror Picture Show is…something else.
- Oh, also her American accent is impressive.
- I’ve always been put off by a lot of teenage entertainment because my high school was surprisingly un-cliquey. So those classic “point out the cliques in the cafeteria” scenes always rang false to me. This movie didn’t really have one of those but it did have the ridiculous notion that the “unpopular” kids at this school routinely throw parties bigger than anything the “popular” kids in my experience ever threw. Seriously. How can you complain about being unpopular when you appear to spend every weekend having ragers with what appears to be 30-40 close friends?
- This is a weird thing to nitpick, but why doesn’t the family ever go see the brother play college football. Obviously, this wouldn’t be in the movie but Liz claimed they only watch him on TV in the book too. They live right by the school. That’s weird.
- Does Kate Walsh have more than five lines in this movie?
- Joan Cusack!
The other big thing is the whole idea that the story’s big surprise twist at the end kind of changes everything that comes first and not for the better. I guessed the direction they were going a little before it happened, but only because I’ve been conditioned to assume that all teen stories will have a sensational plot twist at the end to get one last hit on the heart strings.
Smarter people than I have already pointed out the problems with this twist (it’s cynically employed and ruins the universality of the main characters teen awkwardness by implying that there’s actually a definitive reason why he’s shy) so I’ll leave it at that.
The movie was fine. I’m sure teens will like it. I just wish people making teenage entertainment would have the courage to tell one story without stuffing it with every single after-school special plot point imaginable.