In 1999, Stephen Chbosky wrote The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It’s now thirteen years later, and Chbosky has written and directed a movie version of his book. And, for the first time in a while, I can say that a film adaptation of a book does full justice to its source.
Both the novel and film are framed as a series of letters, written by our protagonist, Charlie. Charlie writes these letters to a “friend” whom he has never met and does not want to. He even uses pseudonyms in his letters, so everyone will remain anonymous. It’s the idea of the person that matters: the comforting thought that somewhere, a sympathetic ear could exist for him. Since Charlie no longer has anyone he can really talk to, and tomorrow is his first day of high school.
Over the course of the film, we learn what has led to Charlie’s isolation, but that’s not the point. The point is Charlie’s attempt to, as his mentor and English teacher advises him, “participate.” Charlie is painfully aware of his outsider status and constantly strives to come out of his shell. There are large obstacles for him to overcome first; indeed, Charlie’s life seems almost a perfect storm of obstacles, such that every person in the theater should be able to identify with at least one. But he is by no means alone. Very soon Charlie manages to befriend two seniors, a half brother and sister so close that he at first mistakes them for a couple. They take it upon themselves to introduce Charlie to their social circle, an “island of misfit toys,” as the film aptly describes it.
It’s here that the film loses a bit of the believability the book has. Because the film lasts only 102 minutes, Charlie’s entire year is compressed to the point where it seems his life just keeps getting better. As far as I know this doesn’t tend to happen in real life — but then, how many movie plots do? So long as the story feels like it can happen, the spell of willing disbelief won’t get broken.
The film walks the line between realistic and fantastic a bit too often. I won’t get into specifics here, because hopefully I’m just a biased observer; hopefully I’m just overthinking this. It’s an occupational hazard. I wouldn’t want to spread that bias to those who are free of it. I’ll simply say this: the ups and downs of the book are simplified down to the major events, and the ending is…different. Subtly, but importantly, different; and fans of the book may be torn over it. Both of these things make the film slightly less plausible than the book, so if you thought the book was unrealistic, you might be unable to sympathize with the film.
Still, for those not having read the book, the plot may very well escape appearing contrived. And this is entirely due to the superb acting by everyone involved, which speaks well of the director, too.
Emma Watson easily shrugs off any remaining stereotypes, and slips comfortably into the role of Sam. Excepting one or two moments where we can almost hear her British accent return, there seems to be no line between Emma and her character. She doesn’t seem to be acting so much as just reacting. Ezra Miller does as good a job (as Patrick) if not better. He’s certainly more theatrical in his acting, but then, that’s his character. Logan Lerman, our lead, is similarly perfect; I’m running out of adjectives, but Paul Rudd and Mae Whitman are also the living embodiments of their characters. The cast, in short, could not have been better chosen.
In the end, the characters are the most important part of this film. It’s Charlie’s struggle to open up to the world around him that matters — and not only his, but everyone else’s. Every character we meet has his or her own version of the struggles Charlie is meant to
As we ourselves do.
Who really feels like they’ve found their place in the world? Not me. Not anyone my age or younger, I would imagine.
The book mentions the song “Dear Prudence,” one of the many references that the film had to cut, and I don’t think there’s a better summary of this story than this song.
So, if you’re still trying to find a place where you fit in — or at least, remember a time when you were — this movie should speak to you.
The best part of this film is, perhaps even more than the book, its optimism. Even though it touches on the bleakest aspects of life, there is always hope.Things will always go wrong. Life will always be lacking in some way. But always, at least within the world of this film, things will get better. I think itshould be seen, if there is any chance that by watching it, we can believe that, even for a moment.
Questions? Email Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org.