At the beginning of 500 Days of Summer, a guy who sounds kinda like Morgan Freeman tells us that it’s a story about boy meets girl, but it is not a love story. As well as setting the tone for that particular movie those words have come to define, for me anyway, a whole sub-genre of cinema. Garden State. Lost in Translation. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Adventureland. Over the past decade or so, a bunch of films have deviated from the umbrella of ‘teen movies’ (Road Trip, American Pie etc) enough to make them something a little bit different. Because their slow pace and the way they meander is reminiscent of stoner flicks, except there’s no weed (ok, they do sometimes still have some weed), I’ve dubbed them loner flicks. Oh, and all their soundtracks seem to feature that one song by Crowded House.
In a nutshell, loner flicks appeal to those of us who are lost. Those of us who, nine times out of ten, WON’T take that big risk. Those of us who grew up desperate to believe that we could make our dreams come true, but have no idea how to actually make them happen. Those of us who are so resigned to loneliness and mediocrity that even relatively mundane events can become imbued with a sense of meaning. Loner flicks are so resonant with a certain subset of teenagers and twentysomethings because they hold up a mirror.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a quintessential loner flick. For that reason, it is almost invariably destined to be nothing more than a cult favourite. I first read the source material (a weird little ‘HMV Books’ paperback I picked up from WH Smith) almost ten years ago. Like most things I loved when I was fifteen, it became much more to me than just ‘a book’. It became a retreat when the world got hard, an inspiration and something like a symbol of hope. Like one of those songs you listen to over and over again, trying to get every ounce of meaning out of it. It’s safe to say that the film had a lot to live up to. Yet, at the same time, it couldn’t fail – I’ve read the book, and seen its events happen in my head, so many times that I was already overwhelmed by nostalgia when the credits finished rolling.
I have no doubt that the general public will be wowed by the fantastically camp sense of humour Ezra Miller brings to his portrayal of Patrick, and the quirky charm Emma Watson exudes as Sam (is it ok for me to have a crush on her yet?). But this will take the film only so far. Its incredibly slow pace means that most moviegoers will fail to recognise the little things – Charlie’s constant desire not to disappoint his parents, the beauty of the flickering lights of the Pittsburgh skyline and the heartbreaking innocence of young Charlie’s eyes. It’s vaguely appropriate that I sat and watched the movie alone in a room almost entirely full of couples (I’d recommend you do the same) – the film recalled all of the anxiety and introspection that plagued me as a teenager. It made me laugh, it made me cry and it reminded me of how uncomfortable I am with the real world. Like all good movies do, it took me out of my own life for a night.
If not for Emma Watson, I would have little doubt that The Perks of Being a Wallflower would bomb. Even as is, it’s touch and go. This doesn’t mean it’s a bad film, because it’s really not (I’ve already made a space for the DVD) – it’s filled with humour, emotion and completely beautiful moments. But it’s not made with normal people in mind. It’s made for people like me – the wallflowers.