PUBLISHED 17 MAR 2017
THE coming of age genre has been at the forefront of presenting spiritual journeys in film for many years and each era of society has produced a film that speaks to the generation at the time, such as REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (Nicholas Ray 1956) in the 1950s or THE BREAKFAST CLUB (John Hughes 1985) in the 1980s. One key theme in the narrative theme is the idea of belonging and the journey that entails. THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER is a modern example that truly captures the challenge of finding somewhere you belong.
The film follows Charlie (Logan Lerman), a socially-awkward introvert who is just starting high school. He begins the film completely alone as his best friend recently committed suicide. His family also appear to be distant from him due to his troubled mental history, adding to his isolation. However, after meeting step-siblings Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller), he is welcomed into their outgoing friendship group which benefits Charlie due to his reserved nature, forcing him out of his shell and helping him feel accepted for the first time. Despite his acceptance into the friendship group, Charlie's journey for belonging does not end there as cracks begin to show when old rivalries emerge. Through these rivalries Charlie must learn from his mistakes and make the effort to achieve his goal of belonging somewhere.
While the focus of the film is on Charlie and his struggle to find somewhere he fits in, other characters are shown in different dilemmas that also fit into the need to belong. Patrick experiences it through his secret relationship with a jock who is embarrassed by their relationship, as being gay in a high school - especially in the early 1990s when the film is set - was fuel for ridicule. Patrick cannot be open about who he is and as a result feels isolated. Charlie’s English teacher Mr Anderson (Paul Rudd) also struggles with the desire to follow his dream of becoming a novelist or to stay in the safety of his work as a teacher. The dilemmas tackled can connect with many people, especially teenagers who often have doubts about their future and whether they can fulfil their dreams. These are common problems for the characters in THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER.
It is no surprise that before he passed away John Hughes - a director synonymous with the coming of age theme - was interested in bringing this story to the screen. THE BREAKFAST CLUB showed teenagers that school did not have to be about cliques and FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (1986) revelled in the appreciation of enjoying the little things. THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER does share a lot of themes with Hughes’s films but allows itself to be something different, with belonging being the key theme. It is not always an easy journey to find somewhere you feel at home and the film shows its audience that there is hope. At the end of the film Charlie remarks that “he feels infinite” and although it may sound like a pretentious piece of dialogue, it highlights the fact that he feels satisfied with where he is, he has found a place that he truly feels accepted and wishes the feeling would never end.
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