December 1, 2012

I feel infinite: How ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ compares from book to film

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of those incredibly deep and moving stories that will stay with you long after you leave the cinema or put the paperback on the shelf.

The book, written by Stephen Chbosky in 1999, has been brought to life on the big screen by its author: Chbosky’s name is littered throughout the opening credits as the writer of the screenplay, the executive producer, and Director.

The result is a film that is deeply connected with the emotion and style of the original book. If the aim of any film adaptation is to recreate the feeling of a novel, this film succeeds. Completely.

The book is constructed through a series of anonymous letters, written by Charlie and posted to someone that he has never met. Each letter starts with “Dear Friend,” and is a kind of diary entry – an insight into the events of his life, and his innermost thoughts.

The letters are written with honesty, in a stream-of-conscious style reminiscent of The Catcher in the Rye.  Also like Holden Caulfield, the protagonist in The Catcher, Charlie is a typical unreliable narrator. When Charlie reads J.D Salinger’s book, he doesn’t know what to make of it – perhaps it is a little too close to home.

The reader learns very early on that Charlie is deeply troubled, and thinks too deeply for a normal kid. His letters often run off in tangents about the minutiae of life and the many things he doesn’t understand – like movie stars, and relationships, and kids eating French fries.

The first dialogue of the film is also “Dear Friend,” as Charlie sits down at his desk to write his own therapy – to write the things that he can no longer bear to think. As in the book, through Charlie’s preoccupations the audience is given an insight into important issues like bullying, teen sex and drugs – and more broadly, what it was like to be young and vulnerable in the early 1990s.

Logan Lermann is wonderful embodiment of Charlie. He conveys Charlie’s sweetness and innocence without appearing juvenile, and is able to pull-off his full range of emotions without being depressing. The central cast is brilliant, with particular note going to Ezra Miller, who shines as the effervescent Patrick.

I have heard it said that Stephen Chbosky decided to cast Emma Watson in the role of Sam when he saw her sitting on the stairs crying after the Yule Ball in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. If that is true, it shows incredible insight – because Watson was able to completely shake off Hermione and was perfectly believable as Charlie’s beautiful friend and fascination.

In the book, Sam and Patrick are only seen through Charlie’s eyes – although they are flawed, they are perfect. Their friendship seems to evolve organically from that first day, when Charlie just so happened to sit next to Patrick at the football game. In the film, all of their actions are much more deliberate – Charlie stalks out Patrick in the stands and he is at first befriended out of pity. Oh, and just a picky little thing: in the book, Charlie doesn't help stud. But I can see why it was used as a way to hep their relationship develop in the film.

As is done in Hollywood, the film also ramps up the romance between Charlie and Sam a little more than would be expected from fans of the book – in the final scene, one last kiss leaves the door open for Charlie and Sam to get together in the future. Whereas, in the book, our only hope is that Charlie will get to the future at all.

The story touches on some very sensitive topics, such as homophobia and child abuse – but it is done with incredible subtlety and tact. There is an important take-home message for everyone, and if you substitute the mixed tapes for Facebook, the experiences of the lead characters are easily transferable today.

For me personally, the take home message was to be kind. This story made me want to go back to high school and befriend anyone who seemed quiet or withdrawn, just in case they need it. If I could, I would go back and be more like Patrick, and tell everybody not to make themselves small, because life will get better.

The verdict:

Book or Big Screen? Both! (Sorry for being a fence-sitter, but I really can’t decide this time.)

The film is: 4. A fine adaptation that maintains the original’s exceptional qualities

Coming soon: A review of Anna Karenina


  1. I've seen the trailers for this and the adds but wasn't sure that it'd be my "cup of tea." I liked Emma but other than that... I'll probably pass.