I once saw a bumper sticker which proclaimed, “Always remember you’re an individual – just like everyone else.” Further investigation using Google revealed that it was Margaret Mead who deserves the credit for this somewhat altered quote. Her original advice was actually, “Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.” In any case, that could be one of the messages of a number of Hollywood teen movies, including “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” directed by Stephen Chbosky (based on his young adult novel). In other words, it’s easy to think that your problems and struggles are unique to you, but the reality is that you have company, often more than you think. This mindset tends to be amplified when you’re a teenager – a period of growth that was actually invented, as people in their teens used to be considered full-fledged adults. But luckily, most of us make it out of the murk of adolescence to realize that we’re more alike in our basic fears than different.
“The Perks of the Wallflower,” stars Logan Lerman as Charlie who begins the film in what sounds like the form of a letter or journal entry to an unnamed “Friend.” It’s shortly before his first day of high school, and he’s beginning it friendless, although we’re left in the dark as to why. (Expected guesses like his family has just moved to the area prove to be false.) His first day is about as positive as Lindsay Lohan’s in “Mean Girls,” but he does have a sympathetic English teacher (Paul Rudd). But a decision to attend a school football game yields unexpected gold when he meets two seniors, played by Emma Watson, as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl and Ezra Miller, as the acerbic, proudly out gay best friend. Both Emma and Ezra are in relationships that are, to put it mildly, unhealthy, and after they take Logan under their wing, he starts to receive an education in partying, philosophizing and the “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” to name a few subjects. Eventually, Logan gets a girlfriend (Mae Whitman) of his own, but he not-so-secretly pines for Emma. However, his biggest task is to come to terms with repressed abuse by a relative when he was younger, not to mention the suicide of his friend (first addressed in the note). In the end, he does triumph with the realization that “I am infinite.” His journey is symbolized by a literal tunnel – that he and his friends ride through blasting David Bowie’s “Heroes.”
Interestingly, that song was scrapped for the tunnel scene used in the trailer which went with the then-popular “It’s Time,” by Imagine Dragons. But the original fits better when you realize that the movie is set in the distant pre-social networking era (indeed one character receives a typewriter as a gift) in the early nineties. That was a time when self-esteem was not considered the most important quality to develop as a youth, and perhaps this is summed up in the scene where Ezra receives a C minus in shop and proudly declares, “I’m below average!” But the movie and book should resonate with any generation. A visit to Amazon reveals that the book has an 88 percent rating over 3 stars and is generally well-reviewed, although a reviewer as Publishers Weekly, who apparently has never been a teen, slams it as “a bath of bathos.” In other words, well worth reading and seeing.