Five-Act Film Structure in The Perks of Being a Wallflower

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I find The Perks of Being a Wallflower to be an excellent example of the type of screenplay and structure I want to write. The film’s protagonist Charlie must take a strenuous mental and also spiritual journey to overcome his path and both acquire and utilize the knowledge of life (as far as ninth grade, anyways) in the most effective way possible. Though an adaptation of a novel, Perks follows a five-act structure.

Act One: Charlie begins the film having little knowledge of how to interact socially in high school and also no memory/few flashbacks of a past event with his Aunt Helen that haunts him. He finds making friends to be difficult, but he catches the eye of his English teacher, who begins giving him books to read outside of class. He meets Sam and Patrick at a football game and they go out afterward, but still he has not fully acknowledged his problem. As the first school dance approaches, Charlie finds himself alone across the gym before spotting Sam and Patrick dancing in the middle to “Come on Eileen: by Dexys Midnight Runners. He dances into the dance floor up to them, and they treat him like an old friend. At last, Charlie has let himself open up, even a tiny bit.

Act Two: Sam and Patrick take Charlie to an after-party once the dance is over at someone’s house. Charlie is overwhelmed with all the people there and does not feel as though he could possibly make any more friends. He is offered a brownie, and soon he is high for the first time and his inhibitions are lost. Sam finds him and offers to make him a milkshake, where Charlie blurts out that he wishes his friend Michael was there. When Sam asks where he is that night, Charlie blatantly says that Michael shot himself last May and that he wished he had left a note; soon after, Charlie catches Patrick kissing Brad, the quarterback, in the back bedroom. There is a mixed response of pity and empathy from Sam and Patrick about Charlie’s friend, and soon they have everyone raise their glasses to Charlie, dubbing him the wallflower who sees things and understands. The act finishes with Sam and Patrick showing Charlie the tunnel and with Charlie beginning to fall in love with Sam.

Act Three: Charlie is becoming accustomed to having more friends, including Alice and Mary Elizabeth. This newfound knowledge of how to act in high school and what friends do (or at least, the friends he interacts with) leads him to watch his friends perform in Rocky Horror Picture Show, as well as experiment at Christmas with how he is received in his new group of friends, where he breaks the rules of Secret Santa and instead gives everyone a gift instead of just one person. Sam too has gotten him a gift, and she leads him to her bedroom to show him the typewriter she got him, as she knows he wants to be a writer. In that bedroom Sam discloses that she has been sexually assaulted by her father’s boss as a child and that she wants Charlie’s first kiss to be with someone he loves. Though she is in a relationship, she and Charlie kiss; this is the midpoint of the film. After he subs in for Rocky one time, Mary Elizabeth corners him and asks him to the dance. He says yes, and they mess around afterwards. This is further experimentation with his growing knowledge, but it also produces more flashbacks for him of his Aunt Helen.

Act Four: Charlie has a hard time dating Mary Elizabeth because he realizes he doesn’t really love her and that he is still in love with Sam. This all culminates during a game in which he must kiss the prettiest girl in the room and, without thinking, he kisses Sam. The group shuns him for this, and he is left alone again in school. He now doubts his knowledge when he must use it for himself, and the flashbacks come more frequently: we see Charlie deteriorating mentally in this act.

Act Five: During this time, Patrick and Brad were discovered by Brad’s dad, and now Brad won’t talk to Patrick. When his friends make fun of Patrick, Brad calls him a faggot in the school cafeteria. Patrick turns around and immediately punches him. It results in a fight between the two of them, but then Brad’s friends get involved and start hurting Patrick. Charlie, seeing this, not really understanding what he is doing, goes up to defend Patrick and punches his attackers. The cafeteria goes silent and we hear Charlie say, “Touch my friends again and I’ll blind you.” This moment brings Charlie back with his friends, and they accept him again. Charlie is overjoyed at having his friends back, but the flashbacks still haunt him. When they come back full-force and he realizes what Aunt Helen did to him is the same that Sam’s dad’s boss did to her, he is put into a mental hospital for a short time to recover, but now he has the support of his friends backing him up. Charlie ends the movie watching Sam move away but knowing that they are still connected, along with Patrick, and that he has acknowledged his past.

References:

https://kyleontheshore.wordpress.com/2013/11/09/the-perks-of-being-a-wallflower-and-the-five-act-structure/

Into the Woods: A Five Act Journey into Story by John Yorke

Published by Alyssa C.

Writer & theatre artist from Iowa. Currently quarantining in the Pacific Northwest. MA in Intercultural Communication Studies from Shanghai Theatre Academy (expected 2021).

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