Lost & Found
By Shana Naomi Krochmal
Like Patrick, Miller, in his hippie heart, is a lover, not a fighter, and he wears his weirdness like a peacock’s plume. “Getting socially outcast can be the best and most informative thing that can ever happen to you,” he says, “because you have to learn who you are separate from the pack.”
As a young child, Miller was mocked for having a speech impediment, which he learned to control by singing opera. (He was in New York’s Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus and the premiere of Philip Glass’s White Raven.) “I was trying to kiss boys in school,” he says, and then the best friend he fooled around with turned on him. “He had some macho realization that led him to believe that I was the problem. So I went from having a stutter to being a totally gay little opera singer to being, like, a really confused queer adolescent.”
One of the older kids who introduced him to Perks became his girlfriend, but once she graduated, Miller felt like an outcast again. “[Bullying] does come with the territory of being a lesbian/gay/bi/queer/trans person in the public school system. And that’s been getting a little bit better, for parts of that spectrum, but not really. How far have we really come? I’m not sure. That’s up for debate.”
He left high school at 16 to act full-time and points to the making of this film as a kind of second chance at acting out his adolescence. “I didn’t get scapegoated,” he says, with tender surprise. “I wasn’t the oddball. All of the other kids who made this film are super weird, also! I’ve never been accepted like that, outside of, like, fucking Burning Man.”
He’s balancing an increasingly busy film schedule -- next he’ll appear with Mia Wasikowska (The Kids Are All Right) in Madame Bovary -- and playing with his band, Sons of an Illustrious Father. And though he’s played a gay teen before (in 2010’s Every Day) and is hardly a closed book in interviews, this is the first time he’s speaking quite so clearly about his sexuality.
“I’m queer,” he says, simply. “I have a lot of really wonderful friends who are of very different sexes and genders. I am very much in love with no one in particular. I’ve been trying to figure out relationships, you know? I don’t know if it’s responsible for kids of my age to be so aggressively pursuing monogamous binds, because I don’t think we’re ready for them. The romanticism within our culture dictates that that’s what you’re supposed to be looking for. Then [when] we find what we think is love -- even if it is love -- we do not yet have the tools. I do feel that it’s possible to be at this age unintentionally hurtful, just by being irresponsible -- which is fine. I’m super down with being irresponsible. I’m just trying to make sure my lack of responsibility no longer hurts people. That’s where I’m at in the boyfriend/girlfriend/zefriend type of question.”
Ten years before the “It Gets Better” campaign, Chbosky had kids coming up to him at book signings to say that The Perks of Being a Wallflower saved their lives. The film’s website is collecting similar testimonials, and a quick search on Tumblr turns up hundreds more.
“I wanted to make the movie that celebrated a kid’s life at the same time that it celebrated any adult’s nostalgia. I think that we forget a lot of the pain and remember a lot of the good things,” says Chbosky. “But I wanted to validate the totality of their experience. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to give them one more piece of hope to go and build a better life.”
For Miller, every minute of press the film earns becomes an opportunity to pay that gratitude forward. “I just want kids in all situations to hold on. A lot of [adolescence] left me wanting to end my own life, just give up. It feels like the whole world -- because it is. It’s your whole world. But, man -- life is a really, really cool ride. It’s really amazing the type of shit you can get up to if you endure. Like, you can do anything you want if you can survive.”
The Perks of Being a Wallflower opens September 14.