I came upon “The Perks of Being A Wallflower” on TV the other night.
The book is a staple in coming-of-age adolescent literature, an exploration of the confusion of growing up and experiencing love and trying to figure it all out; why it’s still so popular years later. It was a favorite of mine as a preteen with too many emotions than she knew what to do with, and one of the only books I can vividly remember continually checking out of the library.
Watching the film I’m not sure years ago if I entirely understood the complexity of the troubles Charlie, the protagonist, experiences. It’s pretty heavy stuff. I also didn’t remember the story taking place in Pittsburgh, and looking back I wonder if that’s why the book was such a favorite, since it connected to such a major part of my life.
I wrote down multiple lines from the book in my many rereads: ”And in that moment, I swear we were infinite” … “We accept the love we think we deserve” … “Things change. And friends leave. Life doesn’t stop for anybody.” … “And all the books you’ve read have been read by other people. And all the songs you’ve loved have been heard by other people. And that girl that’s pretty to you is pretty to other people. And that if you looked at these facts when you were happy, you would feel great because you are describing ‘unity.’”
Those same quotes that resonated while reading were just as poignant while watching, and the closing monologue had my full attention as the film drew to a close:
“I can see it. This one moment when you know you’re not a sad story. You are alive, and you stand up and see the lights on the buildings and everything that makes you wonder. And you’re listening to that song and that drive with the people you love most in this world. And in this moment I swear, we are infinite.”
I was all in, thinking of particular drives with favorite people and certain songs playing, when in an instant: Pittsburgh was aglow on the screen.
I realized that the characters had been driving through a tunnel, and that it was my tunnel.
Whenever I return to Pittsburgh and we take the drive from the airport to Munhall and my grandma’s house, the anticipation builds the closer you get. Why? Because there is a magical moment when you exit the Fort Pitt tunnel and Pittsburgh is just there in front of you for the taking. It’s unlike anything else.
As a child it was the immensity of Three Rivers and the fountain and the skyline and the yellow bridge and all the green signs leading in all different directions. It just seemed so large and impressive, but still so familiar.
As I’ve gotten older I’ve tried to take the moment with me on my phone but it’s always blurry and can never capture the true essence of that awe when the city just seems to instantly appear.
Watching, it was a “someone else gets that Fort Pitt tunnel feeling too” moment.
Via Google, I learned that Stephen Chobsky, the author of Perks who also adapted the screenplay and directed the film, is from Upper St. Clair. In an interview for the film, Chobsky was asked and answered the following:
All your work, like the TV series “Jericho” and the screenplay of Rent, is very location-based. But in theory, you could have filmed this movie in Toronto.
We could have. And there was some talk about New York. But I said to [the producers], “This movie has to be filmed in Pittsburgh. There are details that you can’t fake anywhere else. Of course you have the Fort Pitt Tunnel, which is unlike any other tunnel in the world. But more than that, it’s the food, it’s the people, it’s the blue-collar background. One of the best stories I have about making this movie: John Malkovich, [who was a producer onWallflower,] we always know him as this eccentric, genius actor, but he’s from a rural town in Illinois. He played football. He was a guy’s guy. And when he came to [Pittsburgh], he looked around and he said, “I get this place.” So his advice to me was, “Direct this movie like a guy from Pittsburgh. Always get the tough take.” Because he knew that, even though my story was emotional, I came from a tough place. And if I fought against the sentiment of the story, it would become a better movie. It takes a tough person to be emotional without being sentimental. Whatever tough I have, I got from this town.
It is unlike any other tunnel in the world. Is that because it’s the only tunnel to without fail have construction and traffic slowing your entrance? Is that all just there to make you itch for the other side of the tunnel that much more?
Maybe what makes the tunnel so special is just everyone and everything that it leads to, waiting there on the other side.