The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower ★★★★½

A discussion on subjectivity and ratings.

There was a time in my life when The Perks of Being a Wallflower was one of my favourite films. I was around 18 or so and, at that time, I felt every moment of this was perfect. As I've watched other people on Letterboxd rave about teen films like Lady Bird, Booksmart, The Edge of Seventeen, and Love, Simon, it reminds me how I felt when I first saw The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I'm now older, my opinions have changed, and I haven't cited The Perks of Being a Wallflower as being a masterpiece in a long time. Yet, I've been thinking, does The Perks of Being a Wallflower belong on my list of favourite films? Is it valuable that at a point in time this film mattered to me so much? 

I haven't seen The Perks of Being a Wallflower in years, why do I still not remember it as a masterpiece? Part of that is conditioning. It's an easy film to attack, and many have. I've gone through three phases, which I think others might understand. First, as a teenager, I watched films and rated them how I honestly felt. Then I grew up and read around and felt pressured to conform, to not have contrarian opinions. If a film was a classic, I had to give a generous rating. If a film won some razzies, I had to shit on it too. Then, my final phase started as I realised that consensus doesn't matter, that I should just rate without regard for what's expected. In a way, I returned to my old teenage way of rating things, but now with more maturity and better standards. The Perks of Being of Wallflower fell foul to this, something I loved as a teenager that I felt compelled to instead partially dunk on. So, here I am, years ahead of when I actually cared about IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes scores, deciding to rewatch The Perks of Being a Wallflower because I need to know if it's actually one of my favourite films or if my subsequent dismissals were correct.

Well, I loved it again. Yes, it's cheesy and a bag of quirks, but goddamnit I think it works. I know some of my friends on Letterboxd have a venomous hatred for this film, and think those who like it are "privileged" and "narcissistic". I'm not going to deny that the privilege in the film is obnoxious, an issue I've had with films like Love, Simon and Booksmart, but this isn't a film primarily about oppression and its conflict is almost entirely internal. I was never part of this type of social class or group, my school covered a lot of rough areas, yet I find The Perks of Being a Wallflower relatable. I too was the quiet guy who had trouble making friends. I also used to hang out with people older than me and had to watch them all leave for university. The film was a fantasy to me though, because I never had the wealth of these characters, and I was too lonely to ever participate in the dating and relationships that dominate the latter end of high school. I do still see this as a fantasy, but when I was a lonely teenager this fantasy of having loads of cool friends meant a lot to me.

There are flaws in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and certainly some scenes towards the end feel tacked on. The stuff about abuse and who people choose to love is really powerful, and I think important for acknowledging how such relationships detrimentally affect our mental state. This is a lot darker and tougher than most films of its kind. A lot feels like a blur, and I'd argue it's more intuitive and inventive than a lot of people give it credit for. If you hate this film, continue to hate it. I think we have to learn what makes certain films work for us, and the context in which we consider them. I will never be able to watch The Perks of Being a Wallflower without the context of loving it as a teenager, and that's ok. I don't need to be objective, or pretend to be. Nobody does. Five years on, the final scene here made me cry again. I aren't going to be adding The Perks of Being a Wallflower to my favourites list in the immediate future, but for a moment in my life it felt like something so pure as to be transcendent. It was infinite.

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