While waiting for the subway, on my way to see The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I was privy to the infinite moment of four high school girls.
I had just missed the last train and the platform was nearly empty. Two girls, no more than fifteen, passed through the turnstile in tight jeans and wool sweaters, followed shortly after by two other somewhat more boisterous girls, giggling and shouting. One girl with mermaid long hair was clearly the leader. She wore a floaty red tank top and held the precious paper bag-wrapped bottle of whatever in her confident fist. She passed it to the others and they sipped dutifully, but not nervously.
I know I was their age ten years ago, but I was also never their age. I was never out in Brooklyn at 9:30 on a Saturday night. I never carried myself with their self-assured, giddy grace. I never drank or strutted or screamed. I never knew that kind of hyper happiness, not until years later. In fact, I don’t remember there being a time before age twenty that some part of me wasn’t consumed with the fear of what my parents would think.
When the train pulled up, Mermaid Hair pretended to hitchhike and then switched to giving a queenly wave to the passengers. The car was not very full for a Saturday night, and when we had taken our seats, I found I couldn’t take my eyes off them, though had I looked around myself I’m certain I would have seen every pair of eyes in the car fixated on this rowdy foursome. One girl poured a few drops of Vitamin Water down another’s neck while one with pink highlights shrieked delightedly. The smallest girl in a grey wool sweater said something to the leader and then, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, they took off their shirts and traded, exposing brightly colored bras and laughing. They were brazen and bright eyed and I knew immediately that they felt infinite.
This is how, in the ten minutes it took me to get from my apartment to the BAM Cinema, I had borne witness to everything The Perks of Being A Wallflower would try to accomplish over the next two hours.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a book I loved very much in high school. It’s a book a lot of people loved, and then a lot of people hated, because that’s how these things usually work. Things are novel and then they are trite and then you will start to doubt whether anything you ever really loved was wonderful after all. The Perks of Being a Wallflower was a wonderful book because I loved it and not the other way around. It was an introduction to subculture for many of us living in white bread suburbia who hadn’t yet begun to conceive of things like gay football players or Smiths records or cross-dressing performance artists. I, like the eponymous wallflower Charlie, had never been to a real party or done drugs or been kissed. And I, like Charlie, latched onto things like sadness and crushes and books and English teachers. Of course I read it three times and dreamed of one day being rowdy and brazen and infinite. I was dying to be infinite, but nothing infinite ever seemed to happen to me.
Logan Lerman is the movie Charlie and he was born in the 90s which means I’m not allowed to think he’s as handsome as I do. But the truth is that this is a movie about Logan Lerman’s innocent face and the slightest hint of his smile and if that doesn’t interest you then you should probably go see Trouble With the Curve or something because this is not the film for you. But really, if you feel at all curmudgeonly about teenagers and their Very Special Moments, you won’t like this movie at all. I happen to love Very Special Moments, which is why, halfway through the movie, I was simultaneously trying to figure out how construct a twinkly light headboard and an occasion for wearing a semi-formal gown, and then I remembered I’m a 25 year old woman and those occasions are called weddings.
Emma Watson is Sam, she of the twinkly light bedroom, Morrissey posters, and pixie cut - a telling hairstyle for a movie about manic pixie dream friends, with Patrick as the manic half of this charming duo. They are the friends that lonesome high school kids dream of - the kind who suddenly swoop out of the sky doing choreographed dances and driving you through tunnels and toasting your friendship at parties.
I’ve gone on forever without mentioning Mary Elizabeth, who is maybe the best character of all. She is the epitome of the 90s hipster, with her holier than thou attitudes and fragile self-worth. She is a buddhist vegan zine-writer with a half-buzzed haircut and a whole hell of a lot to say. Mary Elizabeth is everything I worry I become in relationships - a difficult combination of needy and patronizing. She wants to expose Charlie to things. It’s the only way she knows how to love him. She is the opposite of delicate, star-necklaced Sam and she’s much too much for wide-eyed Charlie, and for some reason it breaks my heart that he can’t love unlikable Mary Elizabeth instead.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that these characters are stereotypes of the anti-stereotype, and that it kind of works because everyone in high school is a sort of parody of the person they’ll eventually become. Take me, for example, at age 16, scribbling poetry into a collage-covered notebook, wearing tulle skirts from the sale rack at Arden B, and getting on my high horse with just about everyone. I held hands twice with my boyfriend junior year and then broke up with him in a letter after he didn’t talk to me at a party, which was a birthday party and not a real party because someone’s parents were home and no one drank alcohol out of red plastic cups.
And here I am, ten years later, still pouring out my heart and wearing things I can’t pull off and waiting for men to make the first move every time. And last night I stood with my back against the subway tile, my earbuds in and my eyes locked on four teenage girls who don’t need a book like The Perks of Being a Wallflower. And good for them. Good for all of us - infinite, invincible, and otherwise.