“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”: Plus, “Someday This Pain…”

Two new movies, The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You, have both been adapted from novels about adolescent males whose life experiences lead them to therapy.

I. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the only one of the two that I’ve seen, is adapted from the 1999 novel by Stephen Chbosky, who also wrote the screenplay.

It’s the early 1990’s in Pittsburgh. Logan Lerman plays “wallflower” and high-school freshman Charlie, who’s just been in “the hospital.” As described by Richard Corliss in Time, Charlie is “a tender soul scraped raw by the sudden deaths of his best friend Michael — ‘Oh, he shot himself last May; kind of wish he’d left a note’ — and, in a car crash, his beloved Aunt Helen (Melanie Lynskey, seen in flashbacks).”

The first to finally welcome Charlie into a clique, a group of seniors one of them calls “the Island of Misfit Toys,” is Patrick (Ezra Miller), a gay youth who, as Corliss states, “is also deep in trauma time” related to his secret relationship with a football player.

A couple girls in the group provide love-trianglish dynamics. Patrick’s half-sister Sam (Emma Watson) catches Charlie’s fancy; she, however, is drawn romantically to someone else. Meanwhile, Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman) manages to pull Charlie into his first dating relationship—one that’s not really right for him. And he’s poorly equipped to handle that.

About the overall mood of the film, David Edelstein, New York Magazine, asks: “Has there ever been a time when you were among friends and felt as if you truly belonged, yet were aware at the same instant that the joy was fleeting and you’d soon be alone—and that the pain of loss would be almost as intense as the bliss?” Similarly, about Charlie finding his social group: “It’s magic—but every emotion, happy and sad, is so heavy.”

The trailer for The Perks of Being a Wallflower:

Claudia Puig, USA Today, describes a highly significant turning point:

Charlie gets kicked out of the misfit club when he kisses Sam and dumps Mary Elizabeth. As a result of being ostracized, his already tenuous psychological state deteriorates, and that’s when the film becomes substantially darker.

The film’s big reveal is far graver than any of the well-trod teen angst turf that came before it. Though he initially doesn’t seem such a troubled soul, by the film’s climax, Lerman conveys the depths of his traumatized state.

Suffice it to say—no spoilers here—it’s a worthy and realistic payoff.

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times: “The movie confirms one of my convictions: If you are too popular in high school, you may become so fond of the feeling that you never find out who you really are.”

Being not so popular, in other words, is more likely to lead you to an examined life.

II. Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You

Unlike WallflowerSomeday This Pain Will Be Useful To You, another film adapted from a celebrated novel (by Peter Cameron), has been widely panned.

In this film the young male protagonist is gay. According to IMDB, viewers see “…an intimate inside view of James as he works through his life at the therapy sessions which his parents insist he goes to. We learn about James’s past and present through the stories he tells and his recounting of previous therapy sessions.”

In the following trailer, you’ll see James (Toby Regbo) with the “life coach” (who’s actually a shrink) played by Lucy Liu.

Joe Neumaier, New York Daily News: “His pain may be useful to James someday, but to viewers, it’s annoying right here and now.”

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