The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Director: Stephen Chbosky
Writer: Stephen Chbosky (Book and Script)
Cast: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Johnny Simmons, Paul Rudd, Mae Whitman, Melanie Lynskey, Nina Dobrev, Dylan McDermott, Kate Walsh
Original Music: Michael Brook
Cinematography: Andrew Dunn
If you’ve read a few of my movie reviews (such as The Hunger Games, One for the Money, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo…), you know that I have some problems with books being turned into films. Adapting a great novel into a big screen version can be a very tricky business. There has to be a certain amount of editing, simply because you can’t put the entire book into a 2 hour movie (unless of course your name is Peter Jackson and you’re making The Hobbit). Taking out parts of the book ends up changing the experience in most cases, and can prove to be disappointing for fans of the source material. I have experienced this many times because Hollywood loves to use popular books to bring in an audience. When I see that one of my favorite books is being given the screen treatment I go through certain stages. First comes the incredible excitement, the hope that this time they could do it the right way. Then the preparation begins, usually in the form of re-reading the novel and searching for all the news associated with the upcoming film. When the movie finally makes an appearance at a theater near you, tickets and popcorn are purchased immediately. After viewing the film, that’s when the depression sets in. How could they cut my favorite scene? That’s not something the character would say… why did they change that? Who’s idea was it to add in a big unnecessary dragon fighting sequence, especially when it meant butchering the rest of the book? (Brownie points if you can guess which adaptation that is…) Anyway, you get the picture.
But The Perks of Being a Wallflower might break that cycle of hope and despair. There is one thing that it has that all those other adaptations don’t have – the author as the writer/director. Stephen Chbosky wrote the novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower in 1999, and I read it back in high school. It’s a great book, one that truly touched me – especially in that time of my life. To see it become a movie, with Chbosky at the helm, was a lesson in patience. After seeing the trailer, I began to have faith that an excellent movie based off a book could be achieved. Unfortunately, I live in a city that was not included in the initial limited release. I had to wait a whole 15 days in order to see it, and every trailer and review posted seemed to mock me. Now that it’s finally here, will it prove to be everything I hoped for?
Freshman year of high school. Many have experienced the horrors of that first year, but no one feels them like Charlie (Logan Lerman). After a tough year where he has spent time in a mental hospital and lost his best friend to suicide, starting those formative four years is a scary thought. Especially when you’re a wallflower like Charlie, an incredibly shy person who sees the world from the outside. But when people start to notice how special he is, Charlie may not have to spend his school year alone any more. His new found friends Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson) start to include him in their lives, which helps helps Charlie to begin coming out of his shell. But moving away from the wall and joining in can have some consequences, because being different is never easy.
If only they could have the author of the book create the movie every time it moves to the big screen. Stephen Chbosky did an amazing job keeping the important parts of the novel in the film, which is a very difficult thing to do. While I missed certain things that had to be edited out, the main focus and feeling of the literature is still there. When I re-read the book, I started to wonder about how you could possibly show the experience of being a wallflower. Charlie lives in his own head a lot, and putting that into a visual medium could have turned into a disaster. Chbosky makes the right choices in order to give the audience, whether you’ve read the book or not, a glimpse into the world of someone who sees things differently from the rest of us. Fans and newcomers alike will be able to enjoy a powerful story that has been adapted in the best way possible to the big screen.
She’s apart of that other big franchise that started as a book, and moving away from a role that big can be a difficult thing. As Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter movies, Emma Watson was the perfect awkward book worm who seems to know the answer for everything. And while she got a cute pixie hair cut, you still can’t really look at her as anything except Hermione. And considering how big of a Harry Potter fan I am, it would be pretty much impossible to think of her as Sam. But boy does she prove me wrong. While it’s initially a little jarring to hear her American accent, she ends up making you forget all about Miss Granger. Sam is a confident and sexy senior in high school, who knows what she wants and is comfortable living life on the outside. And Emma Watson conveys this perfectly, despite so many years playing the shy smart girl. The one scene that convinces me is when the gang performs The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Sam always plays Janet, the woman who starts out all nice and proper but ends up discovering some intense sexual desires through the course of an evening doing The Time Warp. It’s the perfect metaphor for Emma Watson becoming this incredibly different character of Sam, and looking completely comfortable dancing on stage in a revealing corset.
Logan Lerman and Ezra Miller
Emma Watson may get an honorable mention because she used to be Hermione, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the cast was falling short. Logan Lerman was awesome as wallflower Charlie, who has to struggle to make friends and participate. I’ve seen Lerman in Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, and he seemed to have changed his whole demeanor to play the shy Charlie. His voice is lower and he seems to be trying to make his body smaller and more invisible. That is until he meets Ezra Miller’s Patrick. You can see a little bit from the trailer (seen below) just how fun and loud Patrick is. But he also does a great job playing a gay character who has to deal with some pretty intense issues with love and identity. Ezra Miller also does a really great impression of Tim Curry as Dr. Frank-N-Furter from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. This was a cast who perfectly embodied the characters, and it made the movie that much more powerful.
That Old High School Feeling
While the books does this very well, the film can also evoke all those old feelings of being a high school kid. Everyone has to endure those four years, and they can be tough to deal with. As I mentioned before, I read the book for the first time while I was attending high school. I think I might have been a junior at the time, but the character of Charlie spoke to me all the same. I’m not much of a joiner, and I was painfully shy with anyone not in my small group of amazing friends. While I have grown up a little since then, re-reading the book and watching this movie took me back to those times. Seeing Charlie, Sam, and Patrick at high school dances and football games, riding in the car listening to the music that makes them feel infinite – it all resonates with me. It’s an emotionally powerful look at a group of kids trying to find themselves, and it definitely takes you back to your own experiences walking those hallowed brick halls.
The Pot Brownie Scene
This may contain SPOILERS.
While the overall adaptation of the novel into a movie was excellent, there was one scene that sticks out in my mind as being wrong. Considering that only happened once in the nearly 2 hour movie, I’d say that’s a win. But with it being such an important scene for establishing Charlie’s relationship with his new group of friends, it definitely sticks out. It starts out with Charlie being invited to his first high school party. He turns down a beer because he doesn’t like it, but can’t say no when some brownies are passed around – he’s pretty hungry after the football game. Unfortunately these are “special” brownies and Charlie is now high for the first time in his life. It is here that people start to notice how different he is, because he starts saying everything that is in his head instead of keeping it inside. The things that he says show how differently he sees the world around him, how much he notices just by watching from the outside. But in the movie, speaking his mind doesn’t convey that vision. While I don’t know the direct quotes, I remember him saying something about how people in band shouldn’t have Letterman’s jackets and he makes fun of someone’s hair cut. That kind of crap doesn’t say wallflower, it screams high school cliche or mean girl. It doesn’t show how different Charlie is, it tells us that’s he’s exactly like every other high school kid. But it’s the only scene in the movie where this happens, so I’m willing to chalk it up to Stephen Chbosky just having a forgetful moment.
Overall: 4.5 out of 5
I really enjoyed watching The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It’s fun, emotionally powerful, and a great way to look back on your own high school experience. Charlie, Sam, and Patrick are amazingly cast characters who can speak to everyone. Be prepared to laugh, cry, and leave the theater thinking about what could happen if we saw the world from a different point of view. You can read the book (if you want more back story) or you could even get away with simply watching the movie – which is not something I would normally recommend. But when a film is as good as this one, it might be okay not to do the homework. Go alone (like I did) or enjoy it with your old high school friends – those people who are still important in your life. Class dismissed.
Trailer for ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’