The scene where rebel John Bender, a member of the infamous Breakfast Club, pumped his fist into the air, created a lasting image visualized by the renowned teen representative writer John Hughes. But what if, after that iconic ending, the film dips to black and the opening titles of The Perks of Being a Wallflower appear, followed by equally an recognizable Peter Gabriel song? Would it be a resounding change of theme and pace? Personally, I do not believe it would. Although these films are astoundingly comparable, Perks can be considered a 21st century upgrade to the classic film.
February 1st, 1999, Stephen Chbosky released a book titled “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”. It quickly rose to the top of the New York Times Bestseller charts, becoming a must read for any struggling teenager wanting to get by. But Chbosky did anything but get by. 13 years later he re-wrote the book as a screenplay and directed the film himself. The film follows Charlie, an introverted high school freshman who becomes friends with two older seniors, who then open new horizons for him.
Both The Breakfast Club and The Perks of Being a Wallflower seem to be the same type of “coming of age” film, parallelling each other in more than one way. They both deal with high school cliques, making friends, the effects of parenting, and well… teenage experimentation. What makes Perks such a powerful film is that every character is three-dimensional, whereas The Breakfast Club characters are predictable and one sided. With a vast number of characters, Perks viewers are given the opportunity to relate and connect to at least one or more of them because you understand their motives as well as their emotions. They can comprehend the pain of being an outsider, being rejected, and meeting the right people that make you feel loved. On the other hand, The Breakfast Club has a limited cast that only portrays the stereotypical cliques in high school, and their limited 5+ hour encounter after receiving an in school detention.
The character Brad, a football player tormented by his father, is comparable to Andrew Clark from The Breakfast Club, and the main character Charlie is a mirror image of the meek Brian Johnson. The comedic realism from Patrick, one of Charlie’s new senior friends, played by Ezra Miller, is similar to John Bender’s from The Breakfast Club. But what separates Perks in this film race is that there is not a simple solution to a problem. The story doesn’t end, it’s not structured as happy ending, but a story that keeps on revealing itself as you watch it again and again. After watching it for the 9th time, as I did, I still found things to fall in love with, caught foreshadowing that I previously missed, and was engulfed in beautiful visual storytelling which The Breakfast Club unfortunately lacks.
Perks isn't just a “fun teen movie” like The Breakfast Club, which ends weakly with the shallow physical transformation of Allison, a rejected character, forcing her to be part of the predetermined one-sided definition of “hot,” instead of accepting differences and embracing imperfections. This film is dark, filled with feelings of loneliness, abuse and acceptance, which is more resounding and real than its old counterpart. The Perks of Being a Wallflower feels more real because, like its characters, the film does not fit in a set genre. Suspense, romance, drama, and comedy, with a beautiful bedrock of carefully selected songs as its soundtrack, make this film stand out amongst the gamut of teen movies. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the Brian Johnson spin-off we have always wanted, with a punch of hard hitting situations which current teenagers face daily.