Those Beautiful Outcasts

Take it from a high school introvert: “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” may be as close Hollywood will ever get to depicting the real thing.

Admittedly, teenage angst in cinema is nothing new. And the plot of “Wallflower­” — based on the massively popular 1999 novel by Stephen Chbosky — has definitely been done before: Lonely boy feels lonely, lonely boy finally finds friends, lonely boy feels accepted, lonely boy falls in love. But the strength of “Wallflower” lies in its realistic flourishes, which transform what might have been a pulpy drama into something that often manages to feel genuine.

Take the fact that it’s an intelligent, beautiful girl who bullies Charlie (Logan Lerman), the hero and titular wallflower of the film. A typical teen movie would have made her six feet tall and male. But as any recent high school grad will tell you, bullies take all shapes and sizes; they don’t have to be cheerleaders and jocks.

And then take Charlie himself: He manages to be tortured, shy and good-hearted without being defined by any one of the three traits — a testament to Lerman’s subtlety as an actor. He doesn’t stutter, wear coke-bottle lenses, act effeminate or display superhuman intelligence. He just talks less and keeps to the edges of rooms — that is, until he is discovered by established outcasts Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller), who take Charlie under their wing.

“Wallflower”’s not perfect. Emma Watson’s occasional slip into British accent, while perhaps subjectively endearing, detracts from the charged hyper-realism that is “Wallflower”’s ultimate strength. The farcical, flamboyant kiss between Harvard-bound goth Mary-Elizabeth (Mae Whitman) and Charlie is a bit of stereotypical high school drama that the film could have done without.

But the other two kisses in the movie are understated and capture nicely the ambiguities of teenage love. Sam kisses Charlie because she loves him in a platonic sense, and wants his first kiss to be “from someone who truly loves him.” Similarly, Charlie — who is straight — lets Patrick kiss him because he’s concerned about his friend’s loneliness. The emotions that surround these kisses are never developed or explained, but left the way they feel in high school: brief, volatile and indistinct.

As college students, it’s tempting for us to dismiss our teenage problems as small and mundane. But “Wallflower” does an incredible job at keeping its older viewers from doing just that, using every trick in the book to make the ordinary seem enormous. Hushed conversations about love are truncated half a sentence before a lover’s name is revealed. Kissing scenes are shot in muted tones, from a distance and off to the side. Lips are kept in shadows as cellos and horns play grand orchestral classics.

It’s in this capacity — elevating and immortalizing the experience of adolescence — that this movie shines. Though none of the lead actors are teenagers, they’re almost good enough to trick you into thinking they are. Farcical moments aside, they capture the subtler shades of teenage love and loneliness like few others before them. And that’s enough to make it worth a watch.

More to Discover
Donate to The UCSD Guardian
$200
$500
Contributed
Our Goal

Your donation will support the student journalists at University of California, San Diego. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment, keep printing our papers, and cover our annual website hosting costs.

Donate to The UCSD Guardian
$200
$500
Contributed
Our Goal