Moviegoers packed the final pre-release showing of The Perks of Being a Wallflower - a teenager's coming-of-age story set in 1990s Pittsburgh. Adolescents and young adults crowded the lobby, waving their tickets and begging the screening attendant to let them in. I would have never made it without my press credentials.
In the feeble half-light, I noticed the gentleman on my right was flipping through the book that inspired the movie. Written by filmmaker Stephen Chbosky as a series of letters to an imaginary friend, the book tells the story of introspective and slightly awkward Charlie as he starts high school and struggles to find friendship.
The book is not particularly well-written and its theme is unoriginal, yet Perks of Being a Wallflower is very popular with young adults. It is also one of the American Library Association's most frequently challenged books of 2009, and for good reason.
The film is a morass of teenage drug use, sexual experimentation, homosexuality, suicide, and obscene language. It originally earned an R rating, but Chbosky and his associates at Lionsgate Motion Picture Group appealed the rating and got it downgraded to PG-13, removing nothing from the original footage.
The result is a raw representation of one lonely young man's search for healing in a world broken by sexual sin and suicidal depression. But that's not the most disturbing part. What's most startling is the complete absence of parental involvement in the young people's lives.
Though Charlie comes from a functional two-parent home, his parents have no idea what happens in the lives of their children. This passivity has far-reaching effects. Their children make poor relational choices, hide their difficulties, and seek help and counsel from their friends, who encourage drugs and sexual experimentation.
Charlie's world is very dark and his search for significance entirely peer-based. When his friends leave for college, he has a mental breakdown and spends several weeks in a mental hospital. This precipitates a level of healing with his parents and siblings, but would Charlie's story be different if his parents were as concerned about his mind and heart as they were about his favorite meal?