Charlie is an introvert high school freshman, anxious of the start of school year and coming to terms with memories of his past. The film follows his story of self-discovery, his friendship with a group of offbeat seniors as he finds himself accepted for the first time and as he deals with this new point in his life.
Books adapted into films are risky business. For years I can only count on my fingers books that have made a successful transition from page to screen. A welcome addition to this short list of mine is The Perks of Being a Wallflower directed by Stephen Chbosky who also wrote the screenplay based on his first novel (click this link to read my review of the book).
Much as it appears that Chbosky seems to be hogging the film credits, this setup admittedly works so well for the movie’s benefit with fans of the book as well as critics lauding it as a faithful adaptation. Being a noted filmmaker himself, Chbosky skilfully translates the multifaceted thematic issues of his novel to the silver screen with aplomb, careful and mindful of its treatment without it being heavy-handed or forceful, marked with laugh-out-loud and heart-warming moments.
While I can’t promise that everyone will be able relate to Charlie’s experiences — particularly viewers outside of the film’s young target market — Logan Lerman’s authentic portrayal of the troubled teenager is enough to win the audiences’ compassion as his performance increases power and conviction scene by scene. At first I do have my own reservations concerning Lerman’s casting as the film’s lead since I see him as too handsome for the role, yet when I watched it I’m glad I was proved wrong; right from the beginning Lerman projects a fragile and innocent look underlying the subtlety of his character psychologically haunted by repressed childhood memories.
Having their share of the spotlight are Emma Watson as Sam and Ezra Miller as Patrick who provide the film with equal measure of both drama and light moments. Even though the film retains its semblance of being narrated by Charlie through his point of view like in the book with a series of letters he sends to an anonymous friend, what I like about the film is how the characters of Sam and Patrick are thoroughly fleshed out. Serving as a character foil to the protagonist, the stepsiblings have their own predicaments too that they have to overcome. I really enjoyed how Chbosky handled their roles and explored it in depth not only as Charlie’s best friends but also as separate characters in search for their own resolutions paralleling their damages and development with the main character.
Of the two it’s Miller that made quite an impression and a revelation to me; from his wisecracking up to the memorable part of the Rocky Horror Picture Show sequence where we see him in drag as Dr. Frank N. Furter, he just owned the role of Patrick and as I shamble out of the theater I can’t imagine any actor playing him. Watson, in her post Harry Potter film (nevertheless still diligent when it comes to her studies and at ease in the library setting in some of some scenes), only exhibited her acting chops midpoint in the movie as audiences finally discern her broken personality and deep-seated vulnerabilities.
The only quibble I see in the movie is that viewers who haven’t read the book might have a hard time identifying the time when it was set because for me it somehow lacks that “90s feel” — to which understandably why some of those who earlier saw the trailer proclaimed it as “another run-of-the-mill teenage drama” — until the decade’s pop songs and stuff like mixed tapes and typewriters (that may appear odd, even strange, for those born in an age where song/media playlists and laptops are all the rage) are referenced later on.
There’s no doubt about it, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an excellent adaptation that can be easily counted as one of the best this year offers. It can even stand well on its own notwithstanding if others found nothing remarkable about the book and viewers haven’t read its source material prior to watching the flick. Like youth’s eternal promise and Charlie’s now famous own words, Chobosky’s film can have us all feeling infinite.
This is a part of Read the Book, See the Film reading project.