Monday, October 15, 2012


Can teens survive without music? Perhaps this is a #FirstWorldProblems observation, but I don’t think so. Music is an instinctive and natural thing for all humans (if not all animals), but is it ever more essential than in adolescence?

Teen dependence on music to process and relate to the world around them might not be the primary theme to The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but it flows throughout the book and film. Different kids make mixtapes for their friends, or their girlfriends, or their crushes.

The way music speaks to teens and moves their emotions is the closest thing I’ve known to “speaking in tongues.” If you’ve seen two or three teens listen to a song that makes absolutely no sense, that is void of much real meaning, you know what I’m talking about, because that nonsensical or utterly superficial song can mean everything to those two or three kids. It can mean love and pain and heartache and betrayal and confusion all at the same time, and it can bottle all that emotion up into its notes for decades so that even a middle-aged man or woman can hear a song from their youth and instantly -- sometimes uncontrollably -- travel through time.

The film adaptation of …Wallflower, of a book I’ve read four times, annotated and underlined to death, is earnest and moving. It’s flawed, to be sure, but anyone who remembers their teenage years as tortured and twisted and confused will be quick to forgive it its shortcomings. In a few places, the scenes feel awkwardly pasted together, and Chbosky -- the first-time author turned first-time director -- chooses some odd places to cut off several scenes. (I’m still trying to decide whether that helps or hurts the movie.)

The three main actors all have a few weaker moments, but as a whole, they perform more than admirably in their roles. If Emma Watson ends up getting an uneven amount of coverage, it’s because she is utterly gorgeous in this role, a character carefully imbued with an imperfect slutty past and an emotional tenderness, all wrapped up in a look that recalls Ally Sheedy after Molly Ringwald gussies her up in The Breakfast Club.

The drug use is tough to watch. Maybe this is because I’m an overprotective father now, but I think it’s more because delicate matters are easier to handle in written form versus the screen. Gore, sex, drugs, all of these go down easier when I’m reading it. But when it’s displayed in vivid technicolor, these kinds of acts feel glorified and celebrated. This feels true even when the director is trying to be honest about it, is trying to offer the complicated picture of these teenage follies and “bad decisions.”

If you were ridiculously popular, a three-sport athlete, or maybe the squeaky-clean StuCo president who also regularly led youth services at your church, maybe The Perks of Being a Wallflower will leave you annoyed or even angry. Maybe you’ll find nothing redeeming or important in it. I can’t help but wonder if that’s true. I hope not.

Yes, there’s a gay kid, and The Smiths, and Rocky Horror references galore, all of which are signs that this is A Movie About Outcast Teens rather than the general population. But I wasn’t goth or on the extremes, and I never touched drugs, and never took a drink until my last semester of high school, and I led my church’s Youth Sundays; still this story sings to me.

Perhaps anyone with awkward high school friendships and awkward high school friends, with a past where crushes intermingled with real love, where Agape and Eros were easily confused, can lose themselves in this movie. In every scene where Sam and Charlie are alone with their beautiful awkwardness, I found my entire body tensing up, my eyes watering.

Thank God all that only happens once. And thank God it happens. And thank God we can throw on some headphones and share these moments with our friend and therapist known as music.


Daisy said...

Of all the items of my youth that are now obsolete mixed taped I think I miss you the most!

Billy said...

Gee thanks! That almost sounds like a compliment.

Earl Nobdy said...

Great book. Even made myself a "Perks" mixtape over at Spotify.

Read also "If I Stay" by Gayle Forman for another take on the Importance of Music to Being a Teenager.