Those two words were written, or rather, typed, by the young and troubled protagonist of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Charlie, as he journals and faces an uncertain and anxiety-filled future, that way most incoming high school freshmen do. The “friend” was an unknown.
“You could write about us.”
And with those five words, exclaimed by his newfound friends and fellow misfits Sam and Patrick, Charlie was set on his road to salvation.
How did we get here? Let’s set this up.
Coming to Age on the Fringes
Written and directed by Stephen Chbosky (who also penned the novel), The Perks of Being a Wallflower takes place over the course of a school year in a Pittsburgh area suburb in the early 1990s. The film chronicles the life of Charlie (Logan Lerman, Percy Jackson and the Olympians) as he seeks to overcome a difficult and lonely childhood, his share of mental health challenges (particularly PTSD) and a determination to not “become bad again.”
The hope of new beginnings is quickly shattered, as he once again finds himself on the outside looking in. His only friend is the English teacher, Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd, in a delightful turn). He is an awkward introvert, a wallflower.
Newfound confidence comes in the form of the aforementioned step siblings Sam (Emma Watson, more than successfully distancing herself from her role in Harry Potter), and Patrick (Ezra Miller, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), fellow outsiders and free spirits who revel in their nonconformist ways. Case in point: Patrick is the type who shows up at football games and cheers, “BE AGGRESSIVE! PASS-IVE AGGRESSIVE!”
The two are Charlie’s gateway into the joys of friendship, first love, music and the thrill of standing up through the open sunroof of a vehicle on the move through a crisp fall night! But will it all last when put up against Charlie’s inner demons?
Where should we even begin to move with this adaptation of Chbosky’s rich and acclaimed YA novel? Trauma, abuse and mental health? Relationships and intimacy? Healing and self-discovery through literature and writing? Coming of age? Ahhh, this is heavy, heady stuff!
But today, we will mostly visit it through the lens of friendship and inclusivity.
Welcome to the Island of Misfit Toys
Rule number one of the Teen Movie, or at least in the Top 3: There IS a party scene! Here it is a doozie of a pivotal moment. Let’s take a closer look. Don’t worry, it’s non-spoilery.
Charlie, in true wallflower fashion, is hanging back, taking it all in, seemingly invisible. After all, who is he to these older kids, this long established group of friends? The new guy. A freshman. A nobody. Not worth paying attention to…. right?
But Patrick, he of the nickname, “Nothing,” sees something. He does something beautiful and unexpected. He raises a glass. To Charlie. Wait… huh? So Charlie asks the only logical question…
Charlie: "What did I do?" Patrick: "You didn't do anything. We just want to toast our new friend. You see things and 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 anybody cool left to meet. To Charlie." Sam: "Welcome to the Island of Misfit Toys."
Did Patrick and Sam realize what they were doing? What a gift! To not have to do anything. To find acceptance simply for … being.
Why champion inclusivity and tolerance? As the film beautifully illustrates, people can blossom when accepted for who they are and it equally shows how painful life can be for those who ignored.
The importance of friendship cannot be understated. A sense of belonging is a key human need – right up there with food and shelter. Belonging in community improves motivation, health and happiness.
“We accept the love we think we deserve.”– Mr. Anderson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Sam has problems of her own. She keeps falling into toxic relationships, a fact not lost on the smitten Charlie, who takes the question to Mr. Anderson.
“We accept the love we think we deserve,” Mr. Anderson says. Not quite satisfied, Charlie pushes the inquiry a step further. “Can we make them know that they deserve more?” We can try, they agreed. And try he does.
When asked about it in a lamplightreview.com interview, Chbosky revealed his hopes the line would illustrate to viewers that they could have better love, better friends, and more passion in their lives.
If you are a Charlie: Find the courage to reach out when you are struggling. Accept love when it is freely given. Be encouraged in knowing you are not alone.
If you are a Sam: Remember how we accept the love we think we deserve? Well, silence those negative inner-voices! You deserve so much more good than you might think. You have value.
If you are a Patrick: Look around you, find that wallflower, that lonely person in your orbit who may be fading in the background. Raise that proverbial glass and say: A toast to you, friend. “You see things. You understand.” And you are noticed. It just might save someone’s life.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
Written and directed by: Stephen Chbosky
Cast: Paul Rudd, Kate Walsh, Ezra Miller, Logan Lerman, Emma Watson.
Rated: PG13 for mature thematic material, drug and alcohol use, sexual content, including references and a fight – all involving teens.
Scott is a mental health professional, freelance writer, and movie lover. He has a Masters of Divinity degree, which is not nearly as amazing sounding as Masters of the Universe, but it is what it is. It is here at Movies That Move Us where his powers combine! It is not uncommon to find him pretending to open automatic doors using The Force.