The Perks of Being a Wallflower was a huge success when released in the cinema last year. It is no surprise that the screenplay is faithful to the book, as both were written by incredible writer Stephen Chbosky.
Although an over-used phrase, the book is truly a coming-of-age story that focuses heavily on the disillusionment so frequently felt by teenagers. The plot revolves around Charlie, an apprehensive freshman starting the new school year. He has communication issues and struggles to connect with people following the suicide of his best friend, Michael, the year before the novel begins.
Charlie initially struggles to connect with his family and explains that the only family member he has ever felt close to was his aunt Helen, who died when he was younger.
I read the book for the first time last year when the film was announced and was so captivated by Chbosky’s writing style that I managed to read the whole thing in a day. It’s uniquely written through a series of letters to an undisclosed person meaning that Charlie’s first-person narrative is honest and he doesn’t hold back. As the novel is written in this way, it is so easy to find yourself empathising with Charlie.
There are many themes to the novel, from abusive relationships and sexuality to drugs and adolescence. However, I felt the main theme was loss. Charlie is not only suffering from the loss of his best friend, but also the loss of his youth and, as the novel goes on, his innocence.
Throughout the story, we see Charlie befriend the eccentric Patrick and Sam and adapt to his new, more social, life. Patrick is openly gay and secretly dating popular quarterback, Brad. Sam is his step-sister and has a troubled past, Charlie is immediately besotted with her, but feels he isn’t good enough to do anything about it.
Initially, Charlie is heavily juxtaposed to Patrick. Patrick is over-the-top and obnoxiously loud to teachers whereas Charlie doesn’t have the confidence to participate in classes. As the plot develops and Charlie feels more comfortable with his new friends he gains more confidence and feels free to voice his true opinions.
The film adaptation of the novel has been a long time coming. The novel was first published in 1999 and has gained a cult following since. It is considered a modern classic by many and features some amazing quotes, including one of my personal favourites “we accept the love we think we deserve”.
The film is extremely faithful to the original novel, which I feel is because Chbosky adapted the script himself. Chbosky has stated in the past that the novel is semi-autobiographical and he can relate to Charlie which may play a part in why the characters do not digress from their original representations.
Usually I find film adaptations don’t live up to the novels they are based on and whilst I still think in this case the novel is better than the film, there isn’t much in it at all.
I think one strength of the film adaptation is that the characters are established much quicker than in the book. When initially reading about Patrick and Sam, I wasn’t sure what kind of people they were as I was only finding out about them at the same speed as Charlie, but as soon as you see the pair on-screen, you understand they are eccentric outcasts.
Logan Lerman is fabulous as wallflower Charlie, especially during party scenes, where he portrays Charlie’s naivety brilliantly. One stand out scene is when Charlie has started dating one of Sam’s friends Mary-Elizabeth. During a game of Truth of Dare? Charlie is dared to kiss the prettiest girl in the room, but instead of choosing Mary-Elizabeth, he chooses Sam. Lerman’s performance when he realises the mistake he has made is great, as Charlie is slowly seeing himself turn back into a recluse as his friends stay away from him.
Emma Watson is also surprisingly good as Sam in the film. Although at times her American accent leaves a lot to be desired, her performance is much better than that in any of the Harry Potter films and after seeing the film, I believe she has the potential to continue as a successful actress for a very long time.
However, it is Ezra Miller’s portrayal of Patrick which is truly exceptional. He is able to go from over-the-top clown to emotionally vulnerable in a matter of seconds and you understand why the character is able to draw so many people in. One outstanding scene is when he is confronting Brad about their affair in front of his friends. The dispute turns violent and Patrick completely breaks down. It is no surprise that Miller received a number of accolades for the role.
The production of the film is also well done. Music is a big part of the book and this is conveyed on-screen as the film has an excellent soundtrack. Additionally the editing is extremely clever, with many sound bridges used for transitions, particularly as Charlie recollects about his past. This allows the audience to see the links he makes in order to remember these events.
My only issue with the film itself is that I think it hints too heavily at the films climatic twist, something which was quite shocking and unexpected in the book. However, I often find this to be the case with adaptations.
Overall, I would highly recommend both the novel and the film, but would suggest reading the book first in order to fully embrace and understand Charlie as a character.