Mitler Movie Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

While The Perks of Being a Wallflower was not what I was expecting, it is a true sleeper of a film. It’s a movie about abuse: sexual, emotional, physical, and bullying. The references to sexual abuse are subtle; once you know about it, you realize the entire movie is about the impact of it, but the bullying, the homophobia and the difficulties of being an outsider in high school are in your face and portrayed accurately. Ditto for the pain of being on the outside—it’s  palpable, and the agony of being silenced can not be missed.

In The Perks of Being a Wallflower you’ll meet the trio of Patrick, a gay teen who is out and in love with a boy whose family is homophobic; Sam who had her first kiss and other sexual experiences with a friend of her father’s; and Charlie, who is younger and starting high school after a stay in a mental hospital. We know Charlie’s favorite aunt was killed in a car accident and his best friend committed suicide. But what we don’t know (for most of the movie) is the sexual abuse that is driving his deep fear, pain, and rage (which cannot be contained when Patrick is bullied in the school cafeteria for being gay), and Charlie’s inability to allow anyone close to him.

We all knew these kids in high school.  We just didn’t know what was happening to them. We didn’t know that the sexually precocious or promiscuous had actually been sexually abused prior to their teenage acting out. There is a line in the movie that says “the love we accept is the love we think we deserve.” This statement is beautifully illustrated in the film. The cheating, non caring boyfriend is OK by Sam, who doesn’t believe she deserves so much better. The bullying, the teasing, and the cruelty towards Patrick, who appears comfortable with his sexuality, is painful to watch. This makes survivors feel even further out of “the norm,” as if no one will ever love, accept, and know them. Having been abused already makes someone feel like a freak; being bullied makes a survivor feel hopeless.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower does an excellent job of showing the damage abuse wages, how other kids can just smell the sensitive kids, the hurt kids are the ones who are everything the popular, cool kids are not, and the horrors of their cruelty.  I know from my work how the damage of being bullied, and being isolated and hurt by peers, can be felt decades after high school. I think this movie zeroes in at how isolated and despondent kids feel when they know they are different because their life doesn’t measure up to the “norm.”