Based on Stephen Chbosky‘s 1999 book of the same name, and directed and written by the author himself, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower follows the shy and unpopular freshman, Charlie (Logan Lerman), who is nervous about beginning his first year of high school. Taken under the wings of two seniors, Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson), Charlie is welcomed into the real world of friendships, first loves, drugs, and the general awkwardnesses of adolescence, as the people he meets who help him to find out who he really is. But is it only a matter of time before his traumatised past creeps up on him again?
The following post is a review of the film only. You can read my review of the book on its own here or my comparison of the film to the book here.
Following a modern-day John Hughes’ type high school drama, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower tells an honest story of a troubled boy and the people he meets who begin to shape his life. Highly relatable, the story is emotional, heartfelt, and has a surprising depth to it that will leave most audiences affected in one way or another. Showing that everybody has had some form of trauma in their past, whether it be small or life-changing, and whether they wear it on their sleeve or conceal it from all to see, the story explores a number of modern teenage situations, bringing together issues of friendship, love, and the different ways that people deal with their experiences.
As an adaptation, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower is brilliantly crafted, combining some wonderful lines of dialogue (including a number of memorable quotes), emotional relationships, and a likeability that shines throughout every scene. However, I don’t whether it’s because I watched the film before reading the book (something I always try to do the other way around), but this was one of those very few times where I actually preferred the film.
Adapted by the author of the book himself, there was very little room for the film to go wrong, but it exceeded my expectations on so many levels. Chbosky has done his own work wonders with this film, giving a quality that most adaptations lose when making the transition from page to screen. But this is also why I found it so hard to enjoy the book as much, making it feel almost like a first draft.
Both narrated by the protagonist, Charlie, the book is told through a series of letters whilst the film has Charlie narrate fragments of them over the top his actions. Although their structures are similar, something the book manages to capture differently is how Charlie’s writing progresses. As Charlie’s teacher (played by Paul Rudd) gives him more books to read and as Charlie gets more into his work, his letters improve in grammar and sentence structure.
As a strong and important characteristic that is rarely expressed in a book, this also meant that the first half of the book comes across as quite childish, resulting in a lack of engagement compared to how the film starts off. The book is undeniably more weepy than the film adaptation, with a lot less crying being seen in the film, which is why it comes across as a much more mature coming-of-age story. Admittedly, the book picks up in Part 3 and the improvement in writing makes it easier to relate to Charlie’s situations, talking about them more in a sophisticated manner, but it makes the first two parts somewhat inconsequential.
Another difference is that the book and film have very different focuses. There are a number of major scenes in the film which have the ability to take your breath away, but there aren’t any scenes, in particular, that stand out in the book. The film’s stand-out scenes – the infinite moment, the school dance, the fight at school – don’t have the same impact in the book.
Furthermore, the film also better unravels the story around Charlie’s aunt, as it takes a back seat in the book, whilst it is quite a big revelation in the film, giving the film an extra emotional level. Again, with Chbosky adapting his own work, I guess he took the opportunity to highlight the scenes that needed a bigger impact, but it just downgrades the book if you’ve seen the film first.
The main success of The Perks of Being a Wallflower adaptation is the way its three leads are brought to life, with the films biggest quality being its three fantastic lead performances, each of whom suits their roles near-on perfectly. Logan Lerman finally takes a decent lead with a role that is both engaging and moving, enabling the audience to feel something for his every action. The fact that he was attractive, too, really helped the audience to engage with his character, making his role come across as cute rather than slightly weird, something which will always help a film relate to the audience when dealing with mental illnesses (I don’t want that to come across as shallow on my part, but I think it’s a true comment!). It was about time Lerman had his break-out performance, as well, and I can’t wait to see where he goes from here.
Emma Watson proves that she isn’t a one-trick pony and really puts the effort in to show that she is no longer just Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series and that she can actually deliver something much more adult. She’s actually pretty sexy in this film, playing a slightly promiscuous non-wizard teenager, and her American accent is a nice change, too.
And as for Ezra Miller, wow! Seeing his transition from We Need To Talk About Kevin to this is impressive in its own right, giving such a contrasting performance that it’s no wonder he stole the limelight in many of the scenes. The whole trio is absolutely lovable, and they have such an incredible chemistry that the casting really can’t be faulted.
Everything comes together beautifully, and I have definitely found myself a new favourite film with this adaptation. I would recommend that you read the book first, as you always should, as it doesn’t read as well once you’ve seen the brilliant way it has been adapted.