Perks of being a wallflower is about a shy high school freshman battling with depression after the loss of his best friend who committed suicide. He learns how to have fun, let loose and even falls in love after making friends with a group of socially unique seniors — The Wallflowers (I won’t call them “socially awkward” because it’s all a matter of perspective and I think they’re actually really awesome). The film is based on the 1999 book by Stephen Chbosky, who also wrote the screenplay.
“Perks of being a wallflower” is a metaphor for being wallpaper decorated with flowers. It is similar to the idea of being a fly on the wall. It means that you easily go unnoticed while observing the world around you and taking in information about it. However, it is fair to note that this usually is not something seen as advantageous. So, what are the perks of being a wallflower? What does this mean for the guy struggling through depression and dealing with his best friend’s suicide? What does this mean for an artistic, enthusiastic girl full of life and raring to go? How are they the symbols of wallflowers? How do they stay out of the eyes of others? Let’s find out.
The film begins with a “dear friend” letter that Charlie is writing to his late best friend. You can tell he finds comfort in visualizing the end goal of senior year and what that might be like, but unfortunately he counted the days until then and realized that he has one thousand three hundred and eighty-five days to go until that moment… He keeps a low profile by hiding from the senior jocks wearing letterman jackets, eating by himself at lunch, and even though he finds comedy in Patrick (a senior in his wood shop class) who is just trying to make freshmen feel better — he doesn’t say anything, and lastly, he quietly attends his English class where the first book their reading is featured, To Kill a Mockingbird.
The Meaning of Being a Wallflower
Being a Wallflower means being intelligent, curious yet witty, knowing yourself and honestly, going unnoticed. We see the first instances of Charlie being a wallflower when his AP English teacher asks a trivia question, “which author invented the paperback book, he’s British, invented the serial, and at the end of the third chapter of his first novel he had a man hanging by his fingertips hence cliffhanger?” The answer: Charles Dickens. When the teacher says the answer aloud, he’s actually reading it from Charlie’s notebook. Charlie had the answer but didn’t want to draw attention to himself. The teacher gives another trivia question to the students, this time in exchange for an “A” on the exam. The question: people would put pennies in a metal box to see a play, ushers locked it in the office, that box was called what? Charlie writes the answer in his notebook – “box office”. He smiles in satisfaction when the teacher says his answer aloud after already having looked at him with anticipation. The bell rings and the teacher says, “you have to learn to participate,” hinting at Charlie as the other students exit the classroom. He stops Charlie on the way out, asking him if he gets called teacher’s pet or made fun of because he’s smart. The teacher reassures him that he can be himself and that, “If you make a friend on the first day you’re not doing too bad… Charlie smiles and responds, “thank you sir but if my English teacher is the only friend I made today, that’s sort of depressing.” He arrives home and finishes out his day. The letter to his late best friend is signed, “Love, Charlie.”
The next few weeks at school don’t get any easier for Charlie. A few students rough him up and steal his term paper, he’s taking antidepressant pills, he gets no attention from (not even during family time), and he’s still eating lunch alone. Until he goes to a school football game. He notices a familiar face in the crowd, Patrick from wood shop. He sits next to him and they become friends. Patrick appreciates the fact that Charlie called him by his actual name, he says, “thanks for not calling me nothing, it’s an endless nightmare & these assholes think they’re being original.” They continue to watch the game together and then Sam joins them. She immediately sits next to Charlie unbothered and Patrick introduces her, his step sister. The game is almost over and they invite Charlie to hang out at a local diner, Kings. They bond over music sharing thoughts on going to record stores and how music is way better on vinyl. They share and create inside jokes. When the night is over, they drive Charlie home thanking him for paying for everything and hope to hang out again.
The next time Charlie sees them is at the Homecoming Dance. Patrick and Sam perform their “living room routine” in the middle of the dance floor, without any shame. It’s pure ease for them and loads of fun. This is one of the perks of being a wallflower – if you’re going to be unnoticed, you might as well do whatever you want, with whoever you want and have fun. Make the best of being the type of person who would usually hold up or decorate a wall.
And of course, this is high school so you know there’s an after party full of stoners and underage drinking. Charlie attends this after party with Patrick and Sam. Only moments after entering the party, he’s offered a brownie. He’s starving and immediately scarfs it down. Next thing you know he’s feeling up on the carpet taking about how soft it is; he’s experiencing what’s known as a “sensory high” — it’s when you’re so high that everything feels amazing to the touch. It’s a hilarious scene, view here.
Charlie is no longer shy or reserved. He starts speaking his mind. The partygoers ask him, “How do you feel, Charlie?” and he admits, “I just really want a milkshake.” Everyone laughs with him realizing how stoned he is from the brownie. Sam pulls him in to the kitchen and actually makes him a milkshake in the blender – how sweet. While she’s preparing it, they share stories about being high and somehow end on a conversation about Charlie’s late best friend. When the party resumes, the group of friends in attendance propose a toast to their newcomer, Charlie, “You see things and you understand, you’re a wallflower.” Sam approves by telling Charlie, “Welcome to the Island of Misfit Toys.”
They celebrate by going on a drive through a tunnel in the city. It’s beautiful and profound.
Making Friends & Falling in Love
At the Homecoming after party, there was a scene where Charlie goes upstairs looking for the bathroom and opens a wrong door. There he finds Patrick kissing another guy. He agrees with Patrick to keep it a secret and not to tell anyone about Brad. This is when we start to see a side story develop with Patrick and the events of his relationship. We even get a glimpse into Patrick’s gender expression when he dresses as the main character from the Rocky Horror Picture Show, a musical.
Charlie spends some time getting to know Sam. He makes her a mix tape for the night in the tunnel that includes artists like Nick Drake and the Shaggs. Sam is impressed that he has really good taste in music. Pearly Dewdrops Drop plays in the background. Sam questions Charlie, wondering whatever happened to seeing a person across the room and knowing that everything is going to be okay? She follows up before he can answer saying, “Why do nice people choose the wrong people to date?” He responds (remembering a conversation he had with his English teacher), “We accept the love we think we deserve…” She rebuttals, “Can we make them know that they deserve more?” He confirms, “We can try.” Sam changes the subject complaining about her SAT scores. Charlies offer to study with her for the SATs; they meet every day after school at Kings. They begin to get closer and closer as friends and Charlie wants to surprise Sam with a Secret Santa gift. See how it goes in the clip below.
After this amazing display of intimately picked out gifts for his friends, Charlie gets dressed in his Secret Santa gift, a suit from Patrick. He emerges a star and nearly steals Sam’s breathe away. They go upstairs to her room and talk about kissing. You can tell that Sam wants to be with Charlie. She finds warmth and confidence spending time with him and has grown to like him a lot. He feels the same way about her. Sam admits that she’s been with a lot of awful guys, she wasted her time with them and now she has a real shot at going to college and she doesn’t want to mess that up for some idiot boy. She continues and tells Charles that she wants the first person to kiss him to be someone who loves him, then she kisses him, They finally share a kiss. Thank God. I hope this means what I think it does.
In the next few scenes, we see Charlie hanging out with the other Wallflowers and spreading his branches trying new things. He ends up performing in the Rocky Horror Picture Show since Mary Elizabeth loses her alternate actor and the main actor has already called out. So Charlie fills in and has a bunch of fun. Afterwards, he even gets asked to attend the Sadie Hawkins Dance with Mary Elizabeth. He says yes. When the dance is over, Charlie takes Mary Elizabeth home and spends some time alone with her. She pops open a bottle of wine, plays some music and sets the mood. She clearly wants to have sex with him but he imagines making out with Sam when he kisses her. He stares at her, admiring her as if she really is same. She really likes him. She calls him her boyfriend. He’s confused and does not want to be her boyfriend. The garage door begins to lift open… Her parents are home! She drops him off at home.
The next letter “Dear Friend” narration begin. We haven’t seen him write to his late best friend in some time. He’s distraught about the situation and doesn’t know what to do. He talks about how they go on double dates, he’s tired of touching her boobs, she doesn’t let him pick make out music, she makes fun of his English books, she calls him when he gets home, and he wants to break up with her but doesn’t want to hurt her feelings. He talks to his parents about it and they agree with him that he needs to break up with her if he’s so unhappy in the relationship. For Charlie to be someone who reads so much, we must keep in mind that he’s an introvert and that he has difficulty putting together his words some times; so, when he tries to break up with Mary Elizabeth, it doesn’t go too well. See below:
I don’t know why he tries to break up with her over truth or dare *face palms* this is ridiculous. Patrick asks him, “how is your first relationship going?” He responds with, “It’s so bad that I keep fantasizing that one of us dies of cancer so that I don’t have to break up with her.” Everyone just laughs, thinking that Charlie’s answer is sarcasm or some type of cynical joke. Unknown to them, he’s actually telling the truth. But when the truth doesn’t work so he takes on a dare to kiss the prettiest girl in the room. Everyone assumes he will kiss his girlfriend, Mary Elizabeth… He kisses Sam instead and the party ends right there. The girls follow after Mary Elizabeth to comfort her. Patrick guides Charlie to his car and explains that Mary Elizabeth and Sam have history together. This isn’t the first time something like this has happened. Oh, how I wish Charlie would have just grown a pair and broke up with Mary Elizabeth properly, but this is a typical coming of age story and the whole point is to display the difficulties that arise when growing up, so great job Stephen Chbosky.
Growing Pains & Profound Lessons
Two weeks go by and Charlie still hasn’t hung out with the Wallflowers. He goes back to “dear friend” letters to reflect on the recent events of his life and tries to cope with it all. He wants to right his wrongs but no one will talk to him. He can’t even get Mary Elizabeth to talk to him anymore and we know how that girl can go on and on for days so that’s saying something. While Charlie is down and out, totally bummed about his friends we start to see his depression resurface. He starts thinking about his Aunt Helen, her death, her abusive relationships, his family and his sister’s potentially abusive relationship with a boy from their school known as, Ponytail Derek.
Charlie keeps to himself at school. He keeps tabs on his friends from a distance and observes their interactions with other students/each other. We notice that Patrick isn’t dating Brad anymore. The reason being that Brad’s father caught them together and beats Brad. Patrick was there when it happened and couldn’t stop the father. Brad arrives to school with bruises on his face and lies to his friends that he was mugged in a parking lot. We even see Brad dating a girl as a cover up. He feels ashamed to love Patrick because of societal standards and his father’s abuse. If he had the proper support and guidance he could be himself and be true to Patrick. But, he has to lie and save face at every turn of events. He can’t show his “gayness” for fear of rejection.
One day during lunch period, Patrick is walking across the cafeteria to his table and he gets tripped by Brad’s friend. Patrick hits the ground hard, his food flying forward and landing on the floor. Everyone laughs at him. Brad’s friend looks back at Patrick and says, “Oops sorry, nothing.” Patrick gets up and walks over to Brad, “are you gonna do anything?” Brad pretends to be confused, “what are you talking about?” They exchange words back and forth for a moment. Patrick realizes that their conversation isn’t going anywhere and he turns around and walks away. Brad yells at him, “whatever faggot” A fight ensues, Charlie ends up being the one to break it up and Brad thanks him for stopping his friends.
Soon after Charlie breaks up the fight, he’s back to hanging out with the Wallflowers. He’s so ready to get back to normal and hopefully, even spend some time with Sam. He wants to do things right this time. As it turns out, Mary Elizabeth has moved on and started dating a college guy named Peter who is more her speed. So this presents a great opportunity for Charlie and Sam to get together. But first, he wants to make sure Patrick is okay and they go to a park late at night to catch up and hang out. They talk about all the things they can do together and tell stories back and forth.
The End of the Tunnel
Last day of school, his English teacher assigns the next reading, the Great Gatsby, and informs the students that he will not be moving to New York. The class ends. Charlie walks up to his teacher and talks about his plans for next year. The teacher assures Charlie that he plans on giving him books next year too because he thinks Charlie has what it takes to become a writer. Charlie really appreciates this and he admits, “you’re the best teacher I’ve ever had.” Charlie summarizes his friendship with all the Wallflowers, reflecting on the year they’ve spent together and not being able to imagine what school would have been like without them. As the seniors get ready for Prom, we learn that Charlie’s sister broke up with Ponytail Derek and goes stag with her girl friends; meanwhile, Sam ends her prom night on a bad note when she finds out that her boyfriend Craig was cheating on her the whole time while he was away at college. Shortly after prom comes graduation. The Wallflowers take one last group photo together. There’s a huge going away party and Charlie finally feels a sense of belonging. Too bad all of his friends are going away to college very soon… It starts to sink in and he decides to finally confess his feelings to Sam. They’re in her room again. They talk about being in love, being treated right, and truly knowing each other and accepting each other for who they are and it’s beautiful.
Sam and Patrick spend their last few days packing up and head out to college over the weekend. In his loneliness, Charlie becomes depressed again. He starts having flashbacks to the time he spent with his Aunt Helen and starts blaming himself for her death. He gets so worked up that he can’t take it anymore. You can tell he wants to die. He calls his sister to vent and explains to her that it’s his fault that his Aunt Helen died because she was on her way to get his birthday present… but the reality is that she was in an abusive relationship, she was a cutter and she would’ve killed herself if she wasn’t killed in a car accident… His sister has her friend call the police over to their house for a wellness check. She’s concerned for her brother’s wellbeing. The next scene we see Charlie in, he’s at a Mayview Hospital trying to explain his visions of Aunt Helen to a doctor. Sooner than later, he’s released from their custody and back in to the care of his family. Charlie spends some time with family and everything slowly goes back to normal.
We Are Infinite
After Charlie’s episode, his friends, Sam and Patrick visit over the weekend from college. They go to Kings and have some grub, laughing and joking about their new adventures. Sam made Charlie a mixtape and hands it to him at the table, she says, “I found the tunnel song.” They get in to Patrick’s truck and head out for a ride through the tunnel. Charlie is narrating his last “dear friend” letter saying, I don’t know if I’ll have time to write anymore letters because I might be too busy trying to participate. A perfect bow tied on the end of a beautiful gift to the world of writers, queer folks, and all outcasts alike.
Please note: the perks of being a wallflower are immeasurable because we are infinite.